Santa, why do you sometimes use the same wrapping paper as my mom? –Erin G., Jerusalem, PA
Christmas is an exciting day for everybody. Kids, North Pole Staff, and even parents. And we can hardly blame anybody if they come down and see all the presents we've left under the tree. And if they maybe want to take a little peek. I don't want to point any fingers. But the Spirit of the Holiday sometimes gets the best of us all. And having to re-wrap presents is something Moms and Dads sometimes have to do. Say hello to your brother Jason for me. He almost catches me every year. Almost![...]
I know. It's obvious. But it's holiday time, and I wanted to decorate some cookies. And I have to say, if you decide to get one egregiously holiday-themed product this year, this is not a bad one to choose (especially compared to Pringles Peppermint or whatever). Straight, it tastes a bit like sweet coffee made with ashes, but mix in some hot milk and by golly you got a nog goin'!
Plus, of all the ridiculous liquors I've gotten, this one seems to make the most sense, baking-wise. Why bother with nutmeg and cinnamon and actual ginger when you can just use a dollop of Kahlúa Gingerbread? Cut your prep [...]
There's a question mark at the end of the title here because if anything is subjective, it's the goodness of a sugar cookie. Do you like them crispy? Soft? Fluffy? Dense? Super sweet, or should the frosting take care of that? I'll give you my grandma's recipe, which creates a scarily delicate dough that bakes up into my personal favorite sugar cookies. They're not soft or cakey, but not crispy or crunchy. I guess they're kind of chewy? But not too chewy. They aren't super sweet, and depending on how much nutmeg you dash into them, they have a little more oomph than just "sugar and butter flavored." Plus, they [...]
The year that four of us were a family in the Nutcracker, night after night pretending to have Christmas on stage, we stopped putting the Christmas tree up. We rehearsed instead of decorating. Then my mom had my little brother and retired from the Nutcracker for a second time in her life. The Christmas tree went back up, but this time, its branches drooped with pink. We'd retired the normal Christmas ornaments and hung every last ornament that one of us had received as a Nutcracker gift. Ballerinas and pointe shoes and so many Nutcrackers and mice and soldiers and Claras: characters and shoes enough for fifteen productions danced [...]
Why did I start making yule logs? Because they are hilarious. (Bûche de Noëls, on the other hand, are beautiful, French, and fine and not hilarious at all.) The idea of taking this wonderfully airy, yellow sponge cake, a delicate whipped filling and a rich, decadent chocolate frosting, and turning it all into a cake make to look like a rotting log covered in fungus is simply one of the most marvelous holiday traditions of all time. If you aren’t dead on your feet yet (if so, sorry! Just skip ahead to the drink at the bottom of the page!), grab your friends, and log away.
NPR is streaming an "eclectic" Jingle Jams mix for the remainder of the holiday season, if you're looking for unexpected musical combinations (Ella Fitzgerald's "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" followed The Barenaked Ladies' "Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah," when I turned it on). And if you missed it, here's SNL's "Silent Night" on YouTube. NPR is also hosting a new Dido song, featuring Kendrick Lamar: "Let Us Move On." (She's releasing a new album in March.) And I'm still partial to the World's Most Perfect Christmas Playlist, but that is a self-serving link.
Dear Santa, Do you have any beard-care tips? Hector F., Lewiston, ME
This year my beard is entirely ornamental. I'm not the first woman to serve in the role of Santa Claus, but it is my first time. And I'm very excited. Santa's beard does serve some very practical purposes. Traveling 500 miles an hour, it helps keep the wind and the snow off the lips. Other women and some beardless men have served as Santa over the years. And so we've created some special ways to treat disembodied beards. My favorite is soaking it in egg nog, to give it a kind of vanilla smell from the inside. Orange [...]
The old nativity scene we put up on the church lawn was made of white plastic that lit up at night, bright slashes of paint for beards and eyes and hair. The figures — one Mary, one Joseph, one Jesus, two shepherds, one angel, three wise Men, and a camel — had always glowed cheap and cheerful under their straw hutch. And they were light enough that it only took a couple volunteers from the youth group to set them up (and untangle their wires, and enjoy the scene with hot apple cider in little styrofoam cups).
This year, though, the plastic figurines had flickered and then gone dark [...]
"And therein lies the beauty of wassail: more than just another nice-tasting drink, it’s part of a long (if largely forgotten) tradition of celebrating the life that winter can seem determined to snuff out. It’s a fragrant, warming concoction mixed in bulk and set out for sharing, all but demanding that you call in a crowd. There’s really no such thing as wassail for one." —Speaking of seasonally appropriate drinks, the always excellent Rosie Schaap has a lovely piece in the Times on the history and mini-resurgence of Wassail, which reminds me of the tradition I grew up with, which is that after every Christmas Eve [...]