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Sharing Traditions

Pastor’s Wife Shares Love Of Celebrating Christmas

Kim Smith looks over ornaments she and her husband have collected over the years. The ornament in her hands is a nativity inside a palm leaf that was hand-carved in Peru. Submitted photo

Kim Smith began caring for ailing family members when she was a young child causing her to grow up rather abruptly. Her grandmother had been bedfast since before the girl was born.

“My mom wasn’t well, was in a wheelchair and was in and out of the nursing home. My grandfather always brought her home for Christmas. My mother always made sure I had a really nice Christmas, whether she gave a list to my grandfather or whatever,” said the daughter. “The presents were wrapped meticulously and beautifully with perfect bows. Some gifts were not wrapped and set out like they were straight out of Santa’s sleigh.”

She remembers peaking through a heavy curtain that was hung to contain the heat in their tiny bungalow that was located in a small town outside of Pittsburgh.

“There was this amazing wonderland,” she said.

After discovering this beautiful scene, she remembers opening gifts, playing with the new treasures and then returning to bed for a while. “Christmas was really amazing. I think it was the one time of the year when I got to be a kid.”

Her grandfather served turkey for dinner, which was a mediocre meal, due to the elderly man cooking out of necessity and not passion.

The family patriarch would get his wife out of bed and set her in the wheelchair before leaving for work.

“She would sit there all day long while I was at school and my grandfather was at work,” she said. “We were dirt poor, but I didn’t realize it.”

When she was 11, she began making a few dollars by babysitting. She also worked in a neighbor’s garden for $12 and saved the money to buy school clothes.

“I thought everyone worked at that age and bought their own clothes,” she said.

She started baking when she was 12. “I wanted to learn how to bake and would look up recipes and in seventh or eighth grade I started to teach myself how to make them,” she said. “My aunt realized when I was in ninth grade and started teaching me how to make her family recipes. I gave cookie plates to friends (at Christmas).”

Watching “Frosty the Snowman,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on the TV was another tradition she recalled from her childhood.

“I would run around the house singing the songs from the specials.”

She participated in the Sunday School Christmas program and her grandfather took her to church on Christmas Eve. Her favorite Christmas Eve took place when she was 17, when she drove her elderly aunt and uncle, who had a difficult time getting out, to church and to view Christmas lights afterward.

“Still, to this day, it is my favorite Christmas Eve,” she said.

She married Charles Smith, who later became a pastor. They purchased strawberry and red heart-shaped ornaments for their first Christmas tree. The new groom set up a small artificial tree while his wife was at work. She started to decorate the tree when she returned to their tiny apartment, but couldn’t bring herself to accept an artificial tree.

Her husband came home expecting to find a decorated tree, but instead found no tree at all. They then went shopping for a real tree.

He likes to tell the story about the result of never having discussed how they would celebrate Christmas before they were married. He spent the month of December watching specials on TV, as he had done with his family, while his new bride was baking in the kitchen as she had always done. He wondered what he had done wrong that kept her from sitting with him in the living room. At the same time his wife was wondering why he hated Christmas and wasn’t baking with her.

Their ornament collection grew over the years. Many were gifts from when she worked as a hairdresser and some were from members of the congregations of which they’ve served.

“I can tell a story behind every one of those ornaments,” she said. “I know who gave me every one.”

Eventually, the couple adopted three school-aged children who “wanted to have roots, a feeling of family and traditions.” The new parents waited to purchase their tree until the children’s arrival on Dec. 21. New traditions were started with an ornament given to each child on that day and every year following on the day the tree was set up. Each year a different child picked out the Fraser Fir. The tree was set up the night before it was to be decorated so it had time to warm, allowing the branches to drop. Father and son put the lights on the tree.

“We made a big deal. There was always Christmas music playing and always hot chocolate,” she said.

She handed each of her children an ornament as she gave its history. The oldest ornament is one Smith made in Girl Scouts when she was seven years old. Her husband videoed this tradition each year. Every one of the children’s handmade ornaments have been saved.

The pastor’s wife tried to make Christmas morning a magical experience as her own mother had done for her. The shopping was completed by Halloween and the gifts were often hidden at the church. The pastor would retrieve the gifts after the children went to bed on Christmas Eve. The parents would work into the wee hours in an effort to make their children’s first view of the gifts memorable.

“The kids would have to wake us before going downstairs. I would light the tree, start the music and make Chuck’s coffee,” she said. “I forgot at least one ‘safe’ hiding place each year. The kids started asking ‘OK mom, who gets the lost Christmas gift?'”

With all of the excitement of Christmas and a new home and family for the children, along with the activities at the church, the new mother made a plan to feed the family. She decided to set up a three-day buffet that started on Christmas Day. She wanted fun, finger foods, serving baked ham, cheese and crackers, shrimp, fruit, gelatin squares, potato chips and dip and cookies. The foods were set out little by little. Since it was a hit with the family, it became an annual tradition, growing in length, lasting through New Year’s Day. With the children’s help, the menu grew to include rigatoni, roast beef, teriyaki meatballs and various dips, which her son enjoyed preparing. There were always cookies.

A different course was served every hour of New Year’s Eve starting with a vegetable tray and dip. As the night went on, cheese and crackers, nachos, mini quiche, bacon-wrapped water chestnuts and Swedish meatballs were added. The last dish to be served was barbecued pork ribs at 11 p.m.

Her grandmother simmered sauerkraut and kielbasa all day on New Year’s Eve Day, when Mrs. Smith was a girl. At midnight a small dish was served, along with mashed potatoes, as they watched Guy Lombardo and sang “Auld Lang Syne.” They ate the leftovers for dinner the next day. The granddaughter makes this same meal every New Year’s Day.

She enjoys baking for any kind of church event, including youth group, bake sales or something to send to someone who needs to be uplifted.

She includes some of the recipes she bakes for the Christmas holiday.

“The Old-Fashioned Pineapple Drop Cookie was a Christmas cookie made by my great-grandmother during the Great Depression. My great aunt and grandmother would talk about how they made them as little girls and they taught me how to make them,” she said. “It is a simple cookie but is a link to my family history.”

Kids may enjoy helping with Ritz Dipped Cookies.

“My family would make No-Bake Strawberry Cookies every Christmas to brighten the cookie trays and plates we would give as gifts.”

Pastor Chuck and Kim Smith currently serve East Randolph United Methodist Church.

Cranberry-Orange Shortbread Cookies

1/2 c dried cranberries

3/4 c sugar, divided

2 1/2 c flour

1 c cold butter, cubed

1 tsp almond extract

Zest of 1 orange

1 to 2 T orange juice, optional

Additional sugar to coat cookies before baking, if desired

Line baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Combine cranberries and 1/4 cup sugar in food processor. Process just until the cranberries are broken into smaller pieces. Set aside. Combine flour and remaining sugar in a large bowl. Use pastry cutter to cut in butter until it becomes very fine crumbs. Stir in extract, cranberry mixture, orange zest and orange juice. Use hands to knead dough until it comes together and forms a ball. Shape dough into a log about 2-inches in diameter and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for two hours or up to 72 hours. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cut slices of dough about 1/4-inch thick. Place about 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl and coat the cookie slices with sugar. Place cookies on baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes or until just light golden on the edges. Do not over bake. Cool for several minutes on sheet before moving to a rack. Cool completely. Store in airtight container for 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

Blonde Orange Brownies

1 c unsalted butter

1 1/2 c sugar

3 large eggs

2-3 T freshly squeezed orange juice

1 tsp orange zest

1 tsp salt

1 c flour

Orange Cream Glaze:

8 oz cream cheese, softened

4 T unsalted butter, softened

2 T orange zest

3 T freshly squeezed orange juice

2-3 c powdered sugar, depending on taste and desired consistency

Cream butter with sugar. Add eggs, mix well. Add orange juice and zest. Scrape bowl. Add salt and flour, mixing until just combined. Spread into a greased 13-inch by 9-inch by 2-inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until edges and top are lightly browned.

Glaze: Combine cream cheese & butter until no lumps appear. Add orange zest, orange juice and powdered sugar. Pierce entire sheet of brownies with a fork while still hot. Spread glaze over top and let cool to room temperature.

Jam Kolache

1/2 c butter or margarine, softened

3 oz cream cheese, softened

1 1/4 c flour

1/4 c strawberry jam

Powdered sugar, if desired

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease cookie sheets. In medium bowl, beat butter and cream cheese with electric mixer on medium speed until creamy. Gradually add flour, beating well. On lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut with 2 1/2-inch round cookie cutter. Place on cookie sheets. Spoon about 1/4 teaspoon jam on each cookie. Fold opposite sides to center, slightly overlapping edges; press down lightly on centers. Bake 15 minutes. Remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Ritz Dipped Cookies (Two Varieties)

Peanut Butter Dipped Cookies

13.7 oz Ritz crackers

1 c peanut butter

1/2 c powdered sugar

White or milk chocolate chips

Sprinkles

Caramel Dipped Cookies

13.7 oz Ritz crackers

12 oz Rolo candies

Milk chocolate chips

Sprinkles

For Caramel Cookies:

Lay out half of the crackers (about 50-60) face down on a cookie sheet. Top each cracker with one candy. Bake at 300 degrees for about 5 minutes. Remove from oven and quickly top each softened candy with another cracker. Push it down a little, but not so much that the caramel comes out the sides. Let cool completely and then dip each in melted chocolate chips. Be sure to add sprinkles before chocolate sets. Let chocolate become firm before eating.

Peanut Butter Cookies:

In a small bowl, mix together the peanut butter and powdered sugar. Take a cracker and top it with a small mound of peanut butter. Push it down a little, but not so much that the peanut butter comes out the sides. Dip each in melted chocolate. Be sure to add sprinkles before chocolate sets. Let chocolate become firm before eating.

Old Fashioned

Pineapple Drop Cookies

1 c sugar

1 c light brown sugar

1 c shortening

2 eggs, beaten

1 tsp vanilla

1 c crushed pineapple, drained

1 c crushed walnuts

1 c raisins

4 c flour

1 tsp soda

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

Cream sugars and shortening together. Add eggs, vanilla, pineapple, walnuts and raisins. Combine and then add dry ingredients. Mix well and chill for at least an hour. Drop onto cookie sheets. Bake in 350 degree oven 12-15 minutes or until golden.

No-Bake Strawberry Cookies

7oz pkg fine coconut

3oz pkg strawberry-flavored gelatin

1 c chopped walnuts

2/3 c sweetened condensed milk

1/2 tsp sugar

1 tsp almond extract, optional

Red decorating sugar

Combine well. Form into strawberry shapes. Store in refrigerator up to 4 days.

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