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Tag 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)


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.)


“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.

Oct 19

A look back at my columns about baseball in general: Part 9 — Legends are born in October, so are surprises. This one is about the St. Louis Cardinals and October baseball. First published October 27, 2011, in The Examiner, an Eastern Jackson County, Mo., daily newspaper.

Legends are born in October, so are surprises 

“October is a fine and dangerous season in America” – Thomas Merton

October is indeed a lively month, always full of surprises and interesting fact and folklore.

Come to think of it, October could be my favorite month of the year with Halloween and quirky other holidays to celebrate such as the International Moment of Frustration Scream Day, National Cake Decorating Day and Leif Erickson Day (who was he again?).

But this particular holiday, “Squirrel Awareness Month”, is one we absolutely must talk about later in this story, and we will.

Mostly, I love the surprises that October brings whether from politics, weather changes, folklore or baseball. For example:

Politics: We know that politics can turn on a dime in the month of October, especially in presidential election years. Yet, candidates continue to surprise us with well-timed ‘October surprise’ news releases. They can rise to the top and influence the outcome of an election in a blip.

Weather: I don’t know why weather changes in October are such a surprise to me each year, but they are. Yes, I realize that the change in the seasons is coming, but on that October day when I first feel the cool, crisp fall air that feels so good, it is indeed a pleasant surprise. Watching the color change in autumn foliage likewise catches me by surprise every fall. I ask myself: “How many times have I seen this?” Still, it is breathtaking year after year.

Folklore: Did you know that October is really the eighth month of the year in the old Roman calendar that began in March instead of January (not the tenth as we know it today)? That is why October retained its name ‘octo’ meaning ‘eight’.

October’s birthstone is the opal, and legend has it that the opal will crack if it is worn by anyone who was not born in October. Actually, I once had an opal setting that cracked. I wonder?

Baseball: Remember, ‘Mr. October’ Reggie Jackson who could always be counted on to hit home runs in October during the World Series? And now, Albert Pujols is a Mr. October in his own right, tying Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson’s World Series record of hitting three home runs in a single series game.

However, the biggest surprise of all this October has to be the birth of another October legend –the Busch Rally Squirrel. I wonder if that crazy squirrel that ran all over the field at Busch Stadium during the Division series playoffs knew that October was Squirrel Awareness Month? Squirrels everywhere are no doubt cheering him on.

Here’s the back-story on ‘Rally Squirrel’ if you haven’t been keeping up on October baseball and squirrel surprises:

On October 5, 2011, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (stltoday.com) reported that a squirrel, now known as the ‘Busch Rally Squirrel’, ran across home plate while Skip Schumaker was at bat in the fifth inning during Game 4 of the National League Division Series. This series game was between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

The night before in Game 3 the squirrel made a brief appearance darting across the field into foul territory along the third-base line. Cards lost. In Game 4, he came back, only much bolder this time. Cards won.

With that, legend was born, and Rally Squirrel entered baseball lore as another Mr. October surprise.

As a result, grown adults dress in Rally Squirrel costumes at baseball and football games, kids are dressing up as Rally Squirrels for Halloween, and squirrels everywhere are certainly celebrating Squirrel Awareness Month. After all, who has done more for them than Rally Squirrel?

Additionally, Rally Squirrel has his own Twitter account @BuschSquirrel, and, yes, even though I am a loyal Kansas City Royals fan, I am a proud follower.

After Game 3, the squirrel tweeted, “We need to win. I’m not ready to hibernate yet.”

In a recent interview with the Post-Dispatch, Rally Squirrel insisted that Matt Holiday, Cardinals left fielder, urged him to charge the plate. “There were sunflower seeds in it for me,” Rally Squirrel said.

What can you say? Rally Squirrel is baseball’s newest celebrity and perhaps it’s biggest October surprise ever.

Gotta love October.

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