ChristmaHanaKwanzika

christmahanakwanzika: the finale

by lizzie & isaiah on December 24, 2010 · 10 comments

ChristmaHanaKwanzica - a guest post series

Ah, Christmas.

I have been trying to remember my favorite Christmas. All I can seem to find in the files of Christmas Past are embarrassing moments – like the time my mom gave me my first training bra wrapped in a gigantic coat box so I was embarrassingly ravenous in opening it…only to pull out the tiniest bra that you ever did see. Add to that the humiliation that my older cousins were already {ahem} developed.

Another year she gave me permission to shave my legs in the same method. I should have been suspicious to see the coat box under the tree again…but instead, I pulled a razor and shaving cream out of a mound of tissue paper with such pride…only to promptly hide them under my dress and run upstairs.

If you’re not embarrassing your kids, they’ll grow up to be far too cocky and memory-less, right? Hm.

Years before that, I was growing suspicious of Santa. I may have been five or six…and I wasn’t so much growing suspicious as remembering my grumpy-but-lovable great-grandpa saying, “You don’t still believe in that Santa malarky, do you?” I was five. I’m sure of it.

That Christmas, I shh-ed my cousin while we quietly crept downstairs and hid behind the couch trying to disprove Santa and, instead, fell asleep only to wake up the next morning to a mysteriously filled room of presents.

I can’t remember what any of the gifts were, although I’m certain they were the “most important thing” in my life at the time. Instead, I remember months of preparation. Dozens upon dozens of cookies were baked and frosted, batter was eaten while watching Frosty the Snowman and Christmas Vacation and the tree filled 2/3 of the highest part of the vaulted ceilings.

My dad often made Christmas equally fun and stressful. He loved tradition and watching holiday movies, wow-ing folks with his gifts and me, he loved me. While I realize now that I got to spend a lot of time with my dad when I was a kid because my mom was running around behind the scenes to make the perfect Christmas every year, I was a daddy’s girl for a lotta-years. My dad was the one who loved eggnog, threw lavish Christmas parties for his clients and insisted we watch Christmas Vacation and the animated Grinch Who Stole Christmas every year while over-doing it on cookies.

dad christmas lizzie of love your way

I most remember being able to pick a pretty Christmas dress early in October for recitals and Christmas pageants and the like at school and not ever wanting to take it off. My mom, like most good moms, let me wear them to the grocery store, around the house and wherever for a few months while I could still fit in them, despite whether or not it embarrassed her.

lizzie of love your way aurora christian christmas pageant

Hello, bangs. Brave of you to show your face around here again…I thought I told you never to return..

I have three cousins that are all around the same age. We lived within 15 minutes of each other until we moved to Texas. We went to the same schools – even college. They’re siblings and holidays were always the time when I most felt like I had brothers and sisters. That’s me on the right:
kids for christmas bundled up chicagoland

It felt like Christmas in November. Thanks to living in the beautiful Chicagoland area, it felt like Christmas outside in October.

My mom would kill me if she knew I posted this photo…just so everyone’s fully aware of that fact and in case I mysteriously disappear soon (kidding). My memories of Christmas always have my mom bringing me with her on errands to buy Christmas gifts and letting me help with the cookies, even though I generally lost focus and left her to finish them herself.

love your way blog

One of my favorite Christmas traditions was going to Marshall Fields (rest in peace) in downtown Chicago to look at the Christmas window displays. I always felt like I was in Home Alone 2 (one of the few awesome sequels out there) when I walked through downtown and peered into elaborate Christma-scapes.

The decorations in our home were put out the day after Thanksgiving and Roger Whitaker Christmas flooded the house  - yes, I know…not my favorite either, but those are the sounds of our family’s home during the holidays.

Christmas tasted like pure sugar in 100 different varieties and smelled like cinnamon potpourri around the house and looked like an explosion of pine needles and cookie tins and ribbon and transparent tape.

It felt warm. It felt comfortable. I felt surrounded. As a child, and even now, I felt delighted in. Isn’t that something we all want? To be recognized for who we really are and seen?

I used to hate how hustle-bustle our family always was and that everyone every year had to get together for the holidays. Now I realize – what are the holidays if not a time to be surrounded by people you love?

Although the past few holidays have been a little rough due to family situations and our move a few years ago across the country, it seems our family will return to our cheerful traditions this year…and I, for one, am glad they’re back. Bring on the Roger Whitaker I have protested all these years. Give me the snicker-doodles, although they’re my least favorite cookie. I’ll even offer to vacuum up the pine needles from the relentless grip of our carpet.

The reason we wanted to carry on this guest series for the holidays was to remind ourselves and others to be present during the holiday season. Be part of those cheesy, embarrassing traditions even if you once thought you were too-cool-for-school.

Laugh off the proverbial training bra in a giant coat box this Christmas.


This is the eleventh and final post in the holiday series ChristmaHanaKwanzica. I am also aware that I, sadly, could not settle on a spelling for ChristmaHanaKwanzi(kc)a…apologies.

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christmahanakwanzica: a wedding runs through it

by lizzie & isaiah on December 23, 2010 · 13 comments

ChristmaHanaKwanzica - a guest post series on love your way

This is the tenth post in the holiday guest series ChristmaHanaKwanzica. Kathleen writes A Wedding Runs Through It and is an absolute delight. She was married in May and her wedding recaps are absolutely stunning! She let me know she’s got some great posts up her sleeves for the near future, and knowing Kathleen and her sweet creativity, I’m sure they won’t be near disappointing.


When Lizzie invited me to contribute a ChristmaHanaKwanzika post, so many holiday traditions came to mind I didn’t know how to pick one or where to begin. At this point in the series, music and cookies (two very important parts of my holiday season) have already been well covered, which helpfully narrowed down my options. As much as I’d love to write about my annual late-night Christmas Eve pilgrimage to Waffle House with my sister, if I did, I’d be overlooking an essential component of Christmas in the Poe family, known simply in our circles as “The Christmas Party.”

For some people, things like snow, mall Santas or Starbucks gingerbread lattes are harbingers of the holiday season; in my family, champagne and cheesecake are the telltale signs that Christmas is right around the corner. For as long as I can remember, my parents have hosted a holiday party that deals exclusively in champagne and homemade desserts. That may not sound terribly unique, but over the years the Poe Family Christmas Party has evolved into a hallmark of the season around which our friends and family plan their holiday calendars.

Like many venerable holiday traditions, this one comes from humble origins. My parents have slides (which I regrettably couldn’t scan) of modest holiday gatherings in their Athens, Ga. apartment from the mid-’70s that generally involved a platter of cookies, a cheese tray and whatever booze was in their liquor cabinet. After they moved to Atlanta and attended a champagne-and-dessert soiree thrown by one of Dad’s law firm colleagues, they decided to adopt that format for their own party. Having three kids (two born in the last months of the year) got in the way of my parents’ making it a regular event for a while, but once we moved into a new house in 1988 — one with room for entertaining — an annual tradition was firmly established, and it’s been growing ever since.

a wedding runs through it guest post for christmahanakwanzika

Here I am as a 6-year-old, decorating Christmas cookies for the party. Note the awesome Teddy Ruxpin bowl!

The gist of it is this: Mom and Dad buy champagne by the case, Mom bakes up a storm for about a month or two in advance (cheesecakes freeze like a dream!), and they invite all of their friends over for holiday merriment the weekend before Christmas. It sounds sort of swanky, but it’s actually a surprisingly affordable way to entertain a crowd.

I trawled through the family archive and came up with a shot of the party spread on the dining room table back in 1989:

a wedding runs through it guest post for christmahanakwanzika holiday series on love your way

Which looks a little puny in comparison to the same spot in 2010:

a wedding runs through it guest post for christmahanakwanzika holiday series on love your way

The array of sweets extends back into the kitchen these days; I think the tally of different desserts topped 35 this year. While Mom historically has made all the desserts with only a cookie-decorating assist from the kids, in recent years my sister Emily and I have become important contributors. Mom has taken us on as cheesecake apprentices, fielding late-night calls about baking times or photo text messages with pictures of cracked cakes and assuring us it’s nothing a little whipped cream or other garnish can’t cover up. This year I contributed my first original recipe, a MoonPie cheesecake, which was ridiculously delicious if I do say so myself. Check it out:

chocolate cake for christmas

When we were younger, each of us kids was assigned a task: my sister Emily and I took guests’ coats at the door, and our brother Matt was on luminary detail outside (which involved some renegade bottle rockets on more than one occasion). When Emily hit eighth grade or so, Mom recruited her and her friends to be the kitchen crew, washing discarded plates and glasses and refilling trays of cookies. My buddies and I took over those duties when Emily went off to college, but put our own spin on the job: we dressed in our most formal finery. (What can I say? We love to dress up.)

a wedding runs through it guest post for christmahanakwanzika on love your way

Ahh, junior year. That’s me rocking the full-length velvet dress at bottom right.

After I went off to college, the Christmas party became the first mass-gathering of all my friends returning from far-flung universities over the holidays. It also became a venue for my friends from home to meet the friends from college I had enticed to come, which has forged many new connections. These days, my brother, sister and I canvass our friends in Atlanta and across the country via evite; as a result, the average age of partygoers has dropped considerably from the all-grownup days (and the amount of champagne consumed has spiked). We’ve had friends join us from Illinois, Texas, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Michigan, California and even Brazil! (OK, so that last one was not exclusively a party trip… But still! We’ve reached a new continent!) Over the course of a typical Christmas party, we average at least 300 people coming through the front door.

Probably the most remarkable thing about the party is that we have not missed hosting all of our friends at Christmastime in 22 years; not even after Grandma Dot, my dad’s mom, passed away the week before the ‘95 party, or after my mom had an unforeseen series of surgeries from June to November of 2009 that had her pretty well out of commission for months. (In the case of the latter, my sister and I split most of Mom’s baking between us, which made us wonder how on earth she ever got all those cheesecakes made back in the day with three kids and a full-time job.) The holiday party tradition is part of the fabric of my family, and it’s even created new traditions within itself over the years — but that’s another essay altogether. Our friends and family have come to depend on the party to bring everyone together for this particular form of holiday merriment, and it’s become such an integral part of my family’s holiday season that we can’t imagine ever not doing it. There’s no stopping the Poe Christmas Party!

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christmahanakwanzica: ms. bunny

by lizzie & isaiah on December 22, 2010 · 10 comments

ChristmaHanaKwanzica - a guest post series

This is the ninth post in the holiday guest series ChristmaHanaKwanzika. Ms. Bunny is one of the sweetest, most genuine folks I’ve met in this blog community. Her blog, Bunnies ‘n’ Beagles, is a great read on Ms. Bunny and her fiance Mr. Beagle’s planning journey for their Chicago wedding. Take it away, Bunny.


Christmas Eve is the best day of the holiday season for me. Growing up, that was the day we got together with family, mostly my mom’s side of the family. Over the years we’ve held Christmas Eve at my grandparents’, my aunt’s, and now my parents’ house. It’s changed over time, which was difficult to adjust to, especially when I went away to college to return to a Christmas that seemed so different from the one I grew up with. But looking back as Mr. Beagle and I work to create our own family unit, I realize it hasn’t changed as much as I thought and I understand that our traditions will transform and adapt to fit our new baby family.

My mom’s family is Polish, so we have a few Polish traditions we have always followed. These are a few that I definitely want bring into my baby family.

First, we share oplatek (pronounced opwatek). Oplatek is also known as Christmas wafer and it is made of similar ingredients to the communion wafer Catholics eat. However it is generally rectangular and about the size of a small sheet of paper. It may be white or pink and it is often stamped with a religious vignette. We approach each member of the family and make a Christmas wish for them — something like “I wish you health and happiness in the new year.” Then the person who receives the wish breaks off a small piece of the oplatek and eats it. And then the person receiving the wish makes a wish for the other person, and so on and so forth.

polish oplatek via flickr

Polish Oplatek via flickr

After sharing oplatek, we have sit down to a meatless meal called wigilia (pronounced vigeelia). We have a number of different types of pierogi — I load up on my favorite two kinds, which are farmers cheese and sauerkraut. There’s always some kind of fish, my grandmother’s cranberry sauce, and a vegetable like squash, plus a bunch of pies and cookies. It’s so delicious.

After dinner we open gifts. When I was a kid, this was always my favorite part because as the only grandchild on my mother’s side of the family I was showered with attention and gifts. My family gives out a lot of practical gifts like socks or long underwear, but heck, when you are a kid half the fun is just unwrapping the gift. I now I have a 3-year-old cousin, and it’s weird to admit as a 26-year-old woman that I’m not used to sharing my aunts, uncles, and grandparents with another kid. But my cousin is also the son of my youngest aunt (she’s closer in age to me than I am to him), who treated me like an adult earlier than the rest of my family and always bought the most outrageous gifts for me. So I kind of feel like it’s my duty to dote very heavily on my cousin and be a cool cousin to him like she was a cool aunt to me.

At the end of the night, we headed home. Before bed I would set up a plate of cookies and a glass of milk for St. Nicholas (my parents favored St. Nick over Santa). Sometimes I wrote St. Nicholas a little message. Then my mom and I would lay down with our heads under the Christmas tree and star up at the twinkling lights for awhile. That was always a magic time, feeling full and tired and watching the lights dance above your head. If you stared long enough, it was easy to lose track of time as the tree turned into an abstract light show. Just before I fell asleep I was scooped up and taken to bed — happy, satisfied, and feeling very loved. And isn’t that the best way to fall asleep on Christmas Eve?

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christmahanakwanzika: solsticlipse by mouse

by lizzie & isaiah on December 21, 2010 · 12 comments

ChristmaHanaKwanzica - a guest post series

This is the eighth post in the guest series ChristmaHanaKwanzika. Mouse writes on Souris Mariage and Good Mouse, Bad Mouse and is freaking delightful, obviously. She’s recapping her absolutely beautiful Arizona wedding now on the blog and we’re delighted to have her. Not that I play favorites at all, but Chicago folks tend to warm my heart just a bit. Take me home. Yadda. Take it away, Mouse.


I love Christmas. Stockings and presents and trees and carols and eggnog and tinsel and the Grinch and, well, all of it, really. But as a girl who grew up in an a-religious house, deeply immersed in questions rather than answers and with the holidays thoroughly detached from their spiritual meaning, Christmas isn’t just a day. It’s a season. And no, I don’t mean the commercial season that starts the day after Halloween and takes you right through the February sales. (I’m looking at you, Macy’s in downtown Chicago. Nobody wants to see Santa the day after Halloween. Let us have effing Thanksgiving first, at least!)

This season is about the solstice, the lengthening nights as the moon takes over our lives, the deepening scarcity and barren snowscapes, the single candle burning on a windowsill. This is about drifting snow, the smell of cold on a clear night. It is about offering up plenty, in feast and gift and love, in a moment when the earth is the most silent, the most unyielding. And tonight, as I’m writing this post, tonight we will experience a total lunar eclipse on solstice, on the longest night of the year. The moon, our only natural light on that long, deep night, will vanish in the shadow of our own little planet. It may even turn red as we pass between it and the sun. People used to make sacrifices, to be sure that the moon would return again.

If you watched the eclipse, maybe you set a candle or a walnut, a pomegranate or an orange on your windowsill to bring the light back again. Or maybe you sat in the total dark, unshepherded by either sun or moon, and felt peaceful, and felt alone. In any case, solstice is the turning of the tide, the movement back towards balance between light and dark. We celebrate the deep stillness even as we hope—beyond reason, beyond science, but in the ancient inherited soul we all share—even as we hope for the return of the light.

lunar eclipse and milky wayfisheye of the milky way and a total lunar eclipse from wikimedia

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christmahanakwanzika: lyn of another damn

December 20, 2010

This is the seventh post in the ChristmaHanaKwanzika guest series. I hope you already know Lyn. She started with Another Damn Wedding and has since moved on to Another Damn Life. She is hysterical, delightfully sarcastic and witty and takes a damn good photo. Also, it’s clear that she was a pretty adorable kid…that’s clear, [...]

19 comments you know you wanna read more..

christmahanakwanzica: robin of hitchdied

December 13, 2010

This is the sixth post in the ChristmaHanaKwanzika series.  Robin of HitchDied is a hilariously awesome chica of the super-sweet variety. One of my favorites on her blogs is when she digs through bridal magazines and posts how many pages of ridiculocrity filled its pages. Yeah, she rocks. Take it away, Robin. [Collin, me, and [...]

18 comments you know you wanna read more..

christmahanakwanzika: sarah of my san fransisco budget wedding

December 10, 2010

*I haven’t had any time to throw together a graphic for the series yet…so Isaiah rocked one for me.. This is the fifth post in the holiday series ChristmaHanaKwanzika. Sarah of My San Fransisco Budget Wedding has been a completely supportive, empathetic, hilarious friend to me. She helped me edit a freaking article for heaven’s [...]

16 comments you know you wanna read more..

christmahanakwanzika: lena of la petit coquin

December 8, 2010

This is the fourth post in the holiday series ChristmaHanaKwanzika, which takes a look into how some of my favorite bloggers celebrate the holidays. Lena posts and writes absolutely stunning content on her blog, La Petite Coquin, which is often the only way I get a taste of some Breakfast at Tiffany’s style inspiration. She [...]

12 comments you know you wanna read more..

christmahanakwanzika: lassen was christmas by bret of all things ‘zilla

December 6, 2010

This is part three in the holiday series ChristmaHanaKwanzika. Bret Turner is the fantastically hilarious voice behind All Things ‘Zilla, a groom’s-blog full of wit and bite. Bret handles being one of the only men in our female-heavy community with style and class, like a lumberjack. And, is it me, or does he look exactly [...]

26 comments you know you wanna read more..

ChristmaHanaKwanzika: Lisa of Craft My Life

December 2, 2010

Lisa is the second, awesome guest-blogger in the series, ChristmaHanaKwanzika. The series is meant to shed some light on what the holidays look like, smell like, feel like, taste like and are like in different families and homes. I hope you enjoy the series, and you follow along with other ChristmaHanaKwanzika posts if you want [...]

12 comments you know you wanna read more..