December 5, 2007

Story Night

Stories are a major part of my Christmas celebration. (What? You thought I was going to write about something non-book-related?! Um... nope.)

I'm sure reading Christmas stories goes all the way back to when I was really little, but I don't really remember the tradition of story-reading until I was in middle school. By that time, we kids had pretty much grown too old to appreciate the Christmas Eve talent show tradition. That, and we'd moved away from extended family, and a talent show of 6 people really isn't all that much fun. So, Mom came up with a brilliant idea: let's pick and read our favorite Christmas story, ending with Dad reading the account from the Gospel of Luke.

We'd read funny ones, sweet ones and tear-jerkers, and some would read the same story every year (Barrington Bunny!), and others would pick and choose. It became a part of Christmas that I looked forward to.

When I got married, though, we picked a different Christmas tradition for Christmas Eve. But I didn't want to give up the tradition of story-night. We let it slide during the early years, before we had kids (though we started collecting stories and poems), but pretty much as soon as M got old enough to enjoy listening to stories, we started Story Night. We gather in the living room by the lit Christmas tree -- sometimes just us, sometimes with friends we've invited to share with us, light all the candles in the house, and lay out a blanket (if we feel like it). The kids are usually in PJs, but not always. And we read Christmas stories. Funny ones, sweet ones and tear-jerkers. We each get to pick (and now, for the older girls, read) our favorite for the year. Sometimes it's the same one, sometimes it's different for each year.

We did add one thing, though: mugs of super-rich, made-from-scratch hot cocoa. Yum. There's something about sitting in the candlelight (and now that we have a fireplace, firelight, too) and reading stories that just says "Christmas" to me.

My choice for Story Night has changed over the years. I've read Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey and The Polar Express. Last year, I read Christmas Day in the Morning. One of my perennial favorites, as well as the girls', is Emma's Christmas. We've suffered through Berenstain Bears Meet Santa Bear (which, mercifully, got "lost" in the last move), and usually someone reads How the Grinch Stole Christmas. My favorite version of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas is the one illustrated by Jan Brett (someone usually reads that one), and Hubby likes reading The Gift of the Magi or Santa Comes to Little House, a beautifully illustrated version of the chapter from Little House on the Prairie. And this year, I'm looking forward to reading Great Joy.

And, I can't forget: the recipe for our hot cocoa. May you all have a very merry story-filled holiday season.
To-Die-For Hot Cocoa
Recipe from The Washington Post

First thing I have to stress: you HAVE to spend the money and buy top quality ingredients. Otherwise, it's just no good. We make this one, because the Hot Chocolate is just too rich for the girls.

1/2 cup dutch-process cocoa powder (barring that, you can substitute Ghirardelli cocoa powder)
1/3 cup sugar
pinch salt
1/2 cup water
2 1/4 cups 2% milk
3/4 cup half and half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a saucepan stir together the cocoa powder, sugar and salt. Stir in the water and cook over low to medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture forms a past. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk and half-and-half and heat until warmed through, about 5 minutes. Do not let the mixture reach a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the vanilla extract. Carefully transfer the mixture to a blender and pulse until frothy on top. Pour into individual mugs and serve immediately.

To Die-For Hot Chocolate
1 1/2 cups 2% milk
1/3 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar, optional
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (again, splurge and spend the money to buy something REALLY good, like Ghirardelli or Guittard)
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a saucepan over medium heat, heat the milk, cream and sugar, if desired, just until a skin forms over the top of this surface. Do not let the mixture reach a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat; add the chocolate (can use semisweet) and set aside until the chocolate has melted, about 1 minute. Whisk the mixture until the chocolate is incorporated. Return the pan to medium heat and heat until the chocolate shards melt and disappear, whisking often, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the vanilla extract. Carefully transfer the mixture to a blender and pulse until frothy on top. Pour into individual mugs and serve immediately.
And don't forget about the rest of the Advent stops:
6 December - Laura (Musings)
7 December - Wendy (Caribousmom)
8 December - Nymeth (Things Mean A Lot)
9 December - Raidergirl (An Adventure in Reading), Chris (Stuff as Dreams are Made on)
10 December - Dewey (The Hidden Side of a Leaf)
11 December -Suey (It's All About Books)
12 December - Chris (Book-a-rama)
13 December - Jill (The Well-Read Child)
14 December - Robin (A Fondness for Reading)
15 December - Alyssa (By The Book)
16 December - Rachel (A Fair Substitute for Heaven)
17 December - Literary Feline (Musings of a Bookish Kitty)
18 December - Dev (Good Reads)
19 December - Callista (S.M.S. Book Reviews)
20 December - Tiny Little Librarian (Tiny Little Librarian)
21 December - Carla (Carla Nayland Historical Fiction)
22 December - Carolyn Jean (The Trillionth Page)
23 December - Booklogged (A Reader's Journal)
24 December - Kailana (The Written World) / Carl V. (Stainless Steel Droppings)


Chris said...

Aw, that's so sweet! I'll have to try out that Hot Choco.

jenclair said...

Christmas stories, candlelight, and hot chocolate--sounds lovely!

Erin said...

Sounds like some great recipes!!

Carl V. said...

We too have the tradition of reading the gospel of Luke account on the night that we open presents.

I haven't read many Christmas stories, per se, in a few years, but I have this short story book somewhere in my basement with great stories by classic women authors and I've had a hankering for it for days. You've given me just the right motivation to go down and try to find it.

It was funny because as I was reading your post I was thinking, "I'm going to have to email her to get that hot chocolate recipe" and you anticipated my, and others no doubt, question and gave it to us. Thanks!

lisabea said...

We do this too! We read the Polar Express, The Gift of the Magi, Night Before Christmas and we always end with Spirin's beautifully illustrated King Jame's version of The Christmas Story.

Lovely post.

Cami said...

That sounds like a great tradition! I love it. My family used to do Chorale Readings (we all read together) and that was fun and kind of silly, but those stories are so CHRISTMAS to me! It's good to morph traditions to fit you.

Carolyn Jean said...

I love those pictures. SO classic. Fun post!

Becky said...

What a great post, Melissa!!! I'll have to try out your cocoa or chocolate. I bet it would pair great with my cookies. :) I love reading Christmas books as well. Polar Express is one of my favorites, I admit, though I've read many enjoyable ones through the years. A nice tear-jerker one, Melissa, is An Orange for Frankie by Patricia Polacco.

turtlebella said...

That's a lovely tradition.

We used to listen to The Littlest Angel (just the thought of it now makes me a little teary) and my father recited The Night Before Christmas. My brother and I would sometimes follow along with the book (and woe to my father if his version was slightly different from the book! We let him know in that bossy, "But it says in the book...!). Christmas Eve is a nice time, I like it better than Christmas Day, in fact.

Am very excited about the Hot Chocolate-- very cold and snowy here where I am and this will totally hit the spot.

Kellie said...

Beautiful, Melissa. Thanks for the recipes-we are hot chocolate and cocoa people. They will definitely be tried out this year.

Suey said...

We read some of the same stories at Christmas. Some of my favorites of the years have been: The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, The Polar Express, Twas the Night Before Chrismtas, I Believe in Santa Claus, and various versions of Luke Chapter 2!

Thanks for the chocolate recipes!

Ladytink_534 said...

What a sweet tradition!

tinylittlelibrarian said...

What a lovely tradition! Thanks for sharing it with us.

Marg said...

This sounds like a lovely tradition. Thanks for participating.

raidergirl3 said...

Very nice post and memories.
I love when I unpack the Christmas box at the beginning of December and bring out the Christmas books, including The Grinch, an I Spy Christmas book, and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
I remember that chapter from Little House, I must go look for that book, I would love it.
What a wonderful tradition.

Melissa said...

Thanks, all. You are all most welcome for the hot chocolate/coca recipes. I hope you like them as much as we do. :)

lisabea, I'm going to have to hunt down that book; I'd love a good illustrated copy of the Christmas story.

Becky, I bet it would. ;) I'll have to look for that story. Always on the lookout for good Christmas stories...

turtlebella, I haven't thought about The Littlest Angel for years. I should find that one, too.

I didn't mention the "other" Christmas stories I like -- the chapter book ones -- because we don't have the time to read them on one night. But, I do love The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and Miracle on 34th Street (the Natalie Wood movie is best) and The Christmas Carol, too.

dim sum, bagels, and crawfish said...

What a wonderful holiday tradition complete with the fancy hot chocolate! Makes me want to put on my pjs and head over for story night. Happy Holidays to you and your family!

chronicler said...

That's a great tradition Melissa. We may incorporate that one this year. Your hot chocolate sounds delicious!

Literary Feline said...

What wonderful memories--both for you as a child and that you are making for your family now. :-)

Nymeth said...

What a wonderful Christmas tradition :)

I am so going to try that hot chocolate!

Francesca (Scribacchina) said...

Such a sweet tradition, Melissa, and so beautifully told! I'll keep it in mind for the times when I'll have a family of my own.
I don't think I'll wait so much to try that hot chocolate, though...

valentina said...

can't wait to try those hot choco recipes!
your christmas traditions sounds really heartwarming, a really good idea:)

Andi said...

What a fantastic tradition! That sounds fantastic. And so does the cocoa. Yum!

Andi said...

And I didn't just say fantastic twice. Nope.

Em said...

Great post! And thanks for the yummy looking hot cocoa recipes!

Victor and Camilla Broderick said...

I can't believe you lost Bernstein Bears Meets Santa!! I'll have to get you another one... ;) ~camilla

Melissa said...

NOOOO! Please NO! Don't. I'll pay you not to. PLEASE! (I have a thing against Berenstain Bears. Sorry. :)

Booklogged said...

Loved the pictures! I think the traditions we build up as families are what make Christmas such a wonderful holiday. I'm looking forward to trying your recipes. Thanks for sharing and Merry Christmas, Melissa.

M said...

Love the post. Glad you shared this. I think you have greatly improved on story night.