It’s not Christmas until the taste of candied cinnamon burns my tongue with spice and memories.
Though I decorate my home before Thanksgiving and spend weeks celebrating Advent with my church family, part of me waits for the holiday season to round itself out in my parents’ living room. The warmth of the holidays finally fully settles around my shoulders when I arrive at their home in Tennessee and I’m handed a warm cup of the cider of my childhood. It’s not mulled, nor or is it wassail. It’s a hot, sweet drink spiced with cinnamon candy, but it smells like every Christmas that I can remember.
It’s odd how a taste or a smell can do that—dig up a moment you haven’t thought of since the day it happened. The fragrance of my mom’s Candy Apple Cider takes me back to the year I was eight and the electricity went out because of a Christmas Eve thunderstorm; we opened gifts in the dark. Just one sip is required and I’m reminded of the first Christmas my husband and I spent together. Watching the steam rise up from the cup evokes my careful sipping the first time I went home to my parents’ for Christmas with a new baby. Some years there was coffee or spiced tea, but that’s not what we expect when my siblings and I walk through the back door of our parents’ house in December. We expect the cider because there has always been the cider.
I didn’t realize it then, but all the years my mom served the same holiday drink, she was laying a path for our memories. She was providing a simple framework with which to remember our holidays together as a family. It’s not difficult, really, to do the same thing year after year, but it requires intention and restraint. Every holiday season finds me scouring Pinterest and hunting down new traditions I could start with my kids. If I’m not careful, though, all I’m left with is a jumble of mismatched attempts at memory-making that don’t make the cut for next year’s traditions. As I’m raising my boys to focus on Christ during Advent season, I’ve finally settled on a small handful of simple but familiar traditions that I know will be the lattice around which their holiday memories will grow and bloom. I may feel silly working at traditions my young kids don’t seem to care much about now, but I know that when they are adults, the Christmases of their childhood will be encased with the ways I’m determining to help them remember now.
Traditions are meant to serve us, help us keep what’s important close to our hearts. Maybe it’s asking a lot for a cup of apple cider to do that. But I remember the holidays that weren’t wrapped with happy memories—the first holiday season after my grandfather died, the many Christmas mornings I’d hoped to have children but didn’t, the Christmas our adoption plans fell apart, and last year when my mother was recovering from brain surgery.
Life is uncertain enough. The simple traditions woven throughout my family’s holiday season serve as anchors to remind us that what we treasure is the One who was born in the manger in Bethlehem so long ago. He holds all things together, even when things seem like they’re splitting apart. If a cup of my mom’s cider can remind me at first sip of both the good gifts He has given me and the ways He has upheld us during hard days—then that is a tradition I am deeply grateful for.DOWNLOAD the Traditions, A Holiday Collective e-Book to find Glenna’s recipe for Candy Apple Cider on page 50.
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