As much as I love the holiday season and all the traditional preparations that go into planning for our celebration, I sometimes need a stress relief day. I think I can safely assume that the same can be said for many of you.

I recently needed just that kind of a day and as I often do when a bit of relaxation and reflection are called for, I got out an old scrapbook that I started putting together just after Gregg and I were married. I have several of these books but the one I grab when I’m up to my neck in Christmas stress is the one labeled Christmas Traditions. This 3-ring binder is filled with pages and pages of ideas for making Christmas preparation easier and stories, poems and plays that remind me why I love the Christmas season so much.

Most of these ideas and articles are from women’s magazines from the 1970s to the 1990s. I stopped adding articles about that time because the book was too full and I had less time to add to its pages.

During a recent quiet time as I took a respite from my pre-Christmas craziness, I spent several hours reading stories and articles that reminded me of the origin of many of our Lund family traditions and the stories behind them.

I read a 1977 Family Circle 8-page rendition of the script from the television special “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” The story is complete with pictures from the program as well. Sarah and Leah grew up looking at this magazine version that I carefully cut out and added to my album. I remembered sitting on the sofa with them and reading the words as they looked at the pictures.

I reread one of my favorite Christmas poems by Paul S. Rees entitled “If Jesus Had Not Come.” His words remind me that without Jesus there would be “no manger birth, no star in the east, no Sermon on the Mount, no Healer of hurts and hearts, no reconciling Cross, no four Gospels, no Atonement for sin and no Easter.”

I was reminded that mistletoe was a symbol of peace not romance in the Roman Empire. One legend says that when people who were at war with each other met under a mistletoe-covered tree, they would discard their weapons and be at peace with each other even if only for a short time. Later the English and Scandinavians hung it over entryways and whoever passed through a mistletoe-decorated door was to come only in peace and receive a friendly greeting like a kiss. Our romantic notions are rooted in this tradition.

I was reminded of the legend that the first Christmas tree sprung from the center of an oak tree that was cut down by Saint Boniface. The oak tree was sacred to the pagan religion practiced in Germany in the 8th century and in cutting it down the saint wanted to show the oak had no supernatural power. When an always green pine tree sprung up from the remains of the oak, Saint Boniface supposedly said, “This shall be your Holy tree. It is the sign of endless life, for its leaves are evergreen. See how it points toward the heaven. Let this be called the tree of the Christ Child; gather around it in your homes and surround it with loving gifts and rites of kindness.” This legend is such a nice reminder of the symbolism of the evergreen as you decorate your own tree of the Christ Child.

I also reread an article by Gladys Tabor entitled “Memories of Christmas at Stillmeadow.” Because of this one-page offering, I became of fan of Ms. Tabor and have most of her books on my shelves. I read them whenever I need a reminder of how beautifully simple a life lived in a 17th-century Connecticut farm house can be. Ms Tabor wrote this in December of 1961 for readers of Family Circle:

“Early in December at Stillmeadow, the roof turns to pearl, and the snow sifts from the pine branches in the yard. The pond is laced with ice and in early morning I walk softly to take food to the bird feeders. There is a stillness at this season, in the month of the cold moon.”

Of course, there are recipes in this scrap book. Some of them have become family favorites – classics that we use over and over to celebrate the holidays. I offer them to you in the hopes that during this week before Christmas you can pause from your frantic holiday preparations and enjoy all the gifts of the season and an easy recipe or two.

Apricot Cream Cheese Pinwheels

Pastry

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 package (8-ounce) cream cheese, at room temperature

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups all-purpose flour

Filling

2/3 cup apricot preserves

1 cup finely chopped walnuts

^pTo make pastry, beat butter, cream cheese and salt in a large bowl with an electric mixer until smooth. With a fork, work in the flour until blended and the mixture forms a smooth dough. Using hands flatten dough on plastic wrap to make an 8-inch-by-6-inch rectangle. Chill overnight. To make filling, stir preserves and nuts in a small bowl until well blended. To assemble, roll cold pastry in a 12-inch-by-14-inch rectangle between 2 sheets of waxed paper or on a floured pastry cloth with floured rolling pin. Spread filling to within one-half inch of edges. Roll up like a jelly roll from long side, Press seam firmly to seal. Cut log in half. Wrap and chill until very firm or place in freezer for 30 minutes. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease cookie sheets. With a very sharp knife, cut rolls into one-fourth inch slices. Place one-half inch apart on prepared cookie sheets. Bake 13 minutes or until bottoms and edges are golden brown. Remove to rack to cool.

Hot Christmas Fruit

1 large can sliced peaches

1 large can pineapple chunks

1 large can pear halves

1 large can plums

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1 large can red cherries

1 medium can applesauce

1/2 cup butter

3/4 cup light-brown sugar

Cinnamon

^pMelt butter. Add applesauce with sugar. Drain all fruit and place in a large casserole dish. Pour hot applesauce mixture over it, sprinkle with a generous portion of cinnamon and bake in a 350 degree oven until brown and bubbly. Recipe Note: I’m not sure what a medium can of applesauce is but I use a 25-ounce jar and it works fine. I use whatever fruits I have and don’t worry if I don’t have one can of one of the ingredients listed, I just use something else. I rarely have plums so I’ll just substitute another can of pears or peaches. Any combination seems to work just fine.

Quote of the Week:

Happy Birthday Baby Jesus,

Even when Your birthday’s through,

All year long we’ll remember,

Each precious gift we get from You.

Clark Gassman, Molly Ann Leikin

Ellen Lund of Fremont is a freelance food columnist.

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