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Category Archive: Holidays

Dec 16

Christmas traditions of Missouri, first published in December of 2010 in The Examiner, a daily newspaper published Tuesday through Saturday, serving Eastern Jackson County, Mo.)

Christmas is a bridge. We need bridges as the river of time flows past. Today’s Christmas should mean creating happy hours for tomorrow and reliving those of yesterday.
–Gladys Tabor (Still Cove Journal)

french-breakfast

In our house on Christmas morning we honor a Yuletide tradition passed down from the early French traders who settled Missouri. We celebrate it year after year, but until recently when I researched Missouri Christmas traditions, I had no idea why.

Sometimes we celebrate “reveillon” (pronounced “rev-ay-yon”) on Christmas morning, sometimes on the day after depending upon when the grown offspring arrive.

No, Seinfeld fans, I am not speaking of “Festivus”.

Although the term “reveillon” may seem just as unusual to you as Festivus, the custom of “reveillon” is French for Christmas breakfast.

In Missouri, the Roman Catholic French, the first white settlers in the region, gathered at the home of the head of the family each year on Christmas morning to “reveil” (pronounced rev-ay), meaning wake for breakfast together.

The fare included flavored sweet breads, chestnuts, wild turkey, and dried fruit such as oranges, grapes and cranberries as well as oysters if they could get them. I discovered that in Kansas City markets in the 1850s many of these delicacies were indeed available.

The French adults did not exchange gifts, but the children placed their shoes on the hearth to be filled with candy and toys by the Petit Noel (the Christ Child). No one had a Christmas tree then.

Christmas traditions in Missouri, according to author Dorothy J. Caldwell, were patterned after time-honored traditions of European origin, some rowdy and some religious in nature. All included a time of honoring the spiritual meaning of the season and of family reunion and gaiety, as she described it.

I found excerpts from Caldwell’s writings in my hometown historical society newsletter. From that I located her article titled “Christmas in Missouri”, first published in the Missouri Historical Review in January 1971.

It is fascinating reading if you love history.

She explains how the Germans came to Missouri after the early French settlers, a history familiar to most Missourians, but their Christmas traditions may not be as familiar.

Caldwell references Gert Goebel of Franklin County, Missouri, who wrote that in the 1830s many Missourians held no Christmas church services, no presents were given, and the beautiful custom of the Christmas tree was unknown.

But it was not long after that German settlers introduced the Christmas tree to the Missouri frontier. Caldwell wrote that where cedar trees grew abundantly, “they were brought in from the woods, hung with bright red berries from wild bushes, red leaves from gum and sassafras trees and yellow leaves from maple trees, and topped with dusty miller or peacock feathers.”

With only native cedar trees and few pines, Christmas tree availability was scarce in Missouri, especially in Kansas City and St. Louis urban areas. Caldwell explains, “It was not until 1882 that cabinet-maker Oswald Karl Lux, a recent German settler, lighted the first full-sized Christmas tree in old Westport and in Kansas City. Two years later Westport and Kansas City citizens were able to buy Christmas trees shipped from Michigan.”

As we each carry-on with our unique and/or adapted family Christmas traditions, I like knowing that most of these are anchored deep in Missouri history.

I wish you and yours a Merry Christmas, a happy reveillon Christmas breakfast if you have one and a festive Christmas tree whether decorated with berries and feathers or with shiny ornaments and festal lights.

And I might add as Andy Rooney once quipped, “One of the most glorious traditions in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas Day. Don’t clean it up too quickly.”

Nov 20

Bread is king at Thanksgiving dinners. (From my archived columns, first published in The Examiner on November 24, 2011. The Examiner is a daily newspaper published Tuesday through Saturday, serving Eastern Jackson County, Mo.)

parker-house-rolls-840x536

“Bread is the king of the table, and all else is merely the court that surrounds the king. The countries are the soup, the meat, the vegetables, the salad, but bread is king.”

– Louis Bromfield, American novelist, 1896–1956.

Thanksgiving Day is almost here, and dinner smells wonderful, yes it does, but nothing, absolutely nothing, has a finer aroma than light yeast rolls baking in the oven.

Each autumn, as the fourth Thursday in November draws closer, I think a lot about turkey and all the trimmings, including my Dad’s sausage-pecan-apple dressing, a green-bean casserole, fried apples, cranberries, mashed potatoes and turkey gravy, sweet potatoes and a large dollop of whipped cream atop a piece of luscious pumpkin pie.

A Thanksgiving feast could possibly be the most wonderful collection of food one enjoys during the entire year, but since childhood, ‘light’ yeast rolls have been my favorite Thanksgiving Day food.

Yours, too, or perhaps not? Some say yes, some no.

However, I know this to be true, at our house kids pop these heavenly rolls into their mouths like candy. Everyone else around the table eats at least two, and my husband would think the world came to an end if we served Thanksgiving dinner without yeast rolls.

The late Emily Post, renowned newspaper ‘etiquette’ columnist and author, wrote once “bread is like dresses, hats and shoes—in other words, essential!”

When families and friends break bread together, we are indeed sharing an essential food staple that has been a part of our world since the beginning of recorded time.

Bread is important. In fact, noted American chef James Beard once called it the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods.

Out of curiosity, I researched the history of bread and learned, to my surprise, that bread, beer and yeast went hand-in-hand in ancient Egyptian culture, where bread is thought to have first originated. Bread and beer were staples of every meal there. At some point, yeast was accidentally discovered when someone dropped it in the dough, as the story goes. Possibly someone had too much beer, but nevertheless, the rest is history. The Egyptian’s flat, hard crusty bread eventually evolved into light, heavenly manna from heaven.

Today when we think of Thanksgiving dinner, we know that bread is a major element in its own right, but it is also an ingredient in stuffing or dressing, whichever you choose to call it.

Inspired by this talk of yeast rolls and dressing, I decided to search for my Dad’s legendary sausage-pecan-apple dressing recipe and found Grandma’s “light rolls” recipe as well. Two undeniable stars of our turkey dinner this Thanksgiving.

After all, bread is the king of the table.

Note to readers: There are many yeast rolls recipes to be found, and you probably have your favorite, so instead here is my Dad’s aforementioned stuffing recipe in case you would like to try it for your next Thanksgiving dinner. It’s good.

Sausage Dressing with Apples and Pecans
8-10 ounces of sausage, chopped
14 cups dried bread, cut in cubes with crusts removed
1 ½ sticks butter, melted
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped onions
4 large apples
3 cups pecans, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh sage
2 teaspoons dried sage
4 large eggs, beaten
5 cups turkey stock, maybe more if needed
Fresh chopped or dried parsley to taste
Dried thyme to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat baking dish with oil or cooking spray. In large skillet, cook sausage. Drain and remove, cool. In bowl, add bread cubes to sausage. Melt butter in skillet and add onions and celery and cook for a 3-4 minutes, add apples and cook two more minutes. Pour this mixture onto bread and sausage mixture. Add seasonings, mix, and finally stir in pecans.

Mix eggs in turkey stock and add to dressing mixture, stirring completely. Sometimes it takes more stock to moisten the mixture. Put in baking dish, cover with foil and bake 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until top is slightly browned and crisp, usually takes about 20 more minutes.

Serves 10.

Jun 30

Fourth of July memories– it’s really the patriotism we love, not the potato salad.

(From my archived columns, first published on July 3, 2006, in The Examiner. The Examiner is a daily newspaper published Tuesday through Saturday, serving Eastern Jackson County, Mo.)

fourth-of-july-picnic

“You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.”

–Erma Bombeck.

Ah yes, I remember that “iffy” potato salad and the flies, too, at many a Fourth of July celebration of my youth.

The Fourth of July is a happy holiday bringing back delightful memories, but maybe it is more than the family picnics and fireworks that I remember and love.

Maybe it is the patriotism, 1950s style, not the potato salad, that makes it such a happy holiday.

For instance, one of the things I remember most about past Fourth of July celebrations is a television monologue given by the late great comedian Red Skelton in honor of Independence Day.

For younger generations who may not know this, Skelton was a comedian who rose to stardom between the 50s and 70s delighting audiences coast-to-coast with his weekly comedy television show.

After all these years, turns out I remembered very few details about Red Skelton’s then famous “Pledge of Allegiance” monologue. However, I do recall how much I loved his performance at the time.

If you search the Internet, you will find it easily, the YouTube video of Red Skelton’s Pledge of Allegiance, 1950 style.

Skelton tells a story about how his teacher Mr. Laswell of Harrison School in Vincennes, Indiana, felt his students had come to think of the Pledge of Allegiance as merely something to recite, something monotonous.

Mr. Laswell remarked to the students, “If I may, may I recite it and try to explain to you the meaning of each word?” He continued.

“I—meaning me, an individual, a committee of one.

Pledge—dedicate all of my worldly goods to give without self pity.

Allegiance—my love and my devotion.

To the flag—our standard, Old Glory, a symbol of freedom. Wherever she waves, there’s respect because your loyalty has given her a dignity that shouts freedom is everybody’s job!

The United—that means we have all come together.

States of America—individual communities that have united into 48 (now 50) great states; individual communities with pride and dignity and purpose; all divided with imaginary boundaries, yet united to a common purpose, and that is love for country.

And to the republic—a state in which sovereign power is invested in representatives chosen by the people to govern. And government is the people and it is from the people to the leaders, not from the leaders to the people.”

Red Skelton’s entire rendition of Mr. Laswell’s speech is too long for this column.

However, I will share with you here his final admonition to his students, “We are one nation so blessed by God that we are incapable of being divided, which means, boys and girls, it is as much your country as it is mine.”

Yes indeed, it is this kind of patriotism that I love and remember, but not so much the “iffy” potato salad.

Happy Fourth! May it be patriotic and memorable, even if you can’t keep those pesky flies off the potato salad.

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