For me, Christmas week is all about alternating between ‘pajama days’ and days with family and friends. After a full year–and a busy season of preparation for the year’s crown of Christmastide–a goodly dose of indolence and enjoyment during these blessed Twelve Days is a gift I’ve learned to give myself. I especially love this pause between Christmas Day and New Year’s–and I guard it jealously, parceling it with care between time at home and time out and about.
I actually put on makeup and earrings yesterday for an Irish pub lunch date with my husband and a family gathering at my mother’s house. But today–if not strictly a pajama day–is at least a yoga pants and “1989 Nutcracker” sweatshirt kind of day. This morning I made an inventory of Christmas gifts for next week’s thank you notes, and a did a bit of needful tidying, for, with all its sweet trappings, Christmas makes an awful mess. And this afternoon I’m sitting by the fire with a pile of seasonal books I haven’t yet had time to peruse and a pot of TWG Holiday Spice Tea (gifted by dear friends last night at our traditional Christmas week dinner), intent upon keeping this Christmas with all my heart.
Keeping Christmas for me means a rather ceremonial approach to the days after the 25th. As I see it, all the anticipation and longing and waiting and preparation of Advent demands more than a single day’s celebration; in the proper order of things, Adventtide gives on to Christmastide–both seasons in their own right. If it’s taken over four weeks to get to the completed joys of Christmas, the least we can do is give it its full due of celebration. In a world where everything’s over on the 26th of December, instating and honoring certain traditions has become a meaningful way for Philip and me to make Christmas last the full twelve days.
One of my favorite Christmas week traditions is in the making of eggnog, an event in its own right, and always reserved for a full-on at-home day. With a touch of frost in the air, and absolutely nowhere to go, today seemed the perfect candidate. So, after a noontide breakfast, I ran down to the barn and stuffed the pockets of my coat with freshly laid eggs, pausing long enough to thank the girls, and to pay my most ardent respects to Noël the Christmas rooster.
(Wait–have I not told you about Noël? When a fox got our splendid and beloved Barred Rock rooster two days before Christmas Eve, Philip went out of his way to procure a new one for me–because things were suddenly way too quiet around here, and because neither of us could imagine a Christmas Eve without a rooster crowing the signature Christus Natus Est! at midnight. I was winding ivy wreaths last Friday when Philip pulled in the driveway with this darling little dandy of a Christmas rooster in a cardboard box, whom I promptly christened Noël Braveheart–to disambiguate him from Noël Coward, of course. Smaller than all our hens, and feisty enough to pick a fight with our peacocks (who don’t take him seriously in the least), he’s the Beau Brummell of our barnyard, and the sweetest little cockerel of a Christmas rooster you ever did see. I’m absolutely in love with him.)
Anyway, authentic Southern eggnog is a tradition that predates our traditions, of course. Mama told me years ago that Granddaddy Adams made eggnog every Christmas–a fact which struck me, seeing as he was otherwise a teetotaler. I never knew my father’s father as he died before I was born, but Daddy and those who loved him kept him alive for me in their stories and reminiscences, and I know (and love) him myself as a man of warmth, humor, firmness, faith, kindness, and conviction. Granddaddy Adams dropped out of school in the eighth grade to help support his younger brothers and sisters by picking cotton, and he went on to become the manager of the Coca-Cola bottling plant for over fifty years in Vidalia, Georgia. (Yes, that Vidalia. And I can tell you how to pronounce it if you’re interested. Hint: leave out the ‘L.’) Granddaddy Adams read two books cover to cover, over and over again throughout his life: The Bible and Gone With the Wind–both copies of which were worn to absolute tatters. He never went a penny into debt; he talked a would-be robber out of his gun at point-blank range; he raised two families, marrying my grandmother after being widowed in his late-fifties; and he survived my father dropping a cast iron sink on his head from the attic of the garage.
I could write a book about the things I know and love of this man I’ve never met. He had a laugh like Easter morning, and he loved oyster pie, and he bequeathed me my blue eyes.
What’s more, once a year, at Christmastime, he made his eggnog the old-fashioned way: with good, old-fashioned Kentucky bourbon.
Daddy’s Daddy’s Southern Eggnog
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups whole milk
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup bourbon (I like Maker’s Mark)
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, sugar and salt in a stockpot until well-combined, then whisk in the milk, one cup at a time. Set the pot over low heat and whisk continually for 25-30 minutes, until the mixture reaches 160 degrees and coats the underside of a spoon. (Lots of whisking, but keep at it–call in relief pitchers as needed.)
Remove from the heat and strain through a fine sieve into a large bowl. Add the vanilla, nutmeg and bourbon, and whisk to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours. Do something to occupy yourself–take a nap, write a blog post, have some tea–anything to pass the time until the ‘nog is thoroughly chilled.
At serving time, whip the heavy cream and fold into the chilled mixture. Top with more freshly grated nutmeg (this is no time for the tinned stuff), and serve fireside in your most festive highball glasses, with a stack of nostalgic Christmas records on the turntable.
*Note: do not try to double this recipe, as I did one Christmas for a crowd. I spent the precious moments before the party sifting globs of cooked egg out of the ‘nog with my hands. Not a pretty sight. Also, howsoever tempted, do not step away from the pot to take pictures of the process. Ahem.
Happy Sixth Day of Christmas, friends!