Holiday Tradition: A Spirited Party without Spirits


I grew up in a military family, although my father’s friends always said “You’re not in the real Army.” You see, he was a doctor in the Army, a colonel by virtue of his expertise and experience. So, we had one of those great colonel’s quarters, built in the Great Depression under the WPA. The exposed I-beams in the basement read “Carnegie Steel.” And the first floor was built for the entertainment that colonels and colonels’ wives were expected to host. Which brings us to the Christmas and New Year’s season.

All around the loop and throughout the housing area (think neighborhood), commanders hosted holiday parties for their officers and wives/girlfriends. This was before the deglamorization of alcohol, so they were spirited affairs with the usual social hazards of office parties. My folks had no such obligations and could impose no obligation on anyone to show up at a party ( see “Army doctor,” “not real Army”). Yet they wanted to have their friends and neighbors over. Dad suggested a “Beethoven’s Birthday Party” loosely based on the date of the composer’s birthday and carried invitations around the loop.

Mother organized us four children into kitchen labor, producing cookies starting about a month out (that’s the lead time for German honey cakes (lebkuchen). Then there were Swedish butterballs, shortbreads, sugar cookies cut with steel Christmas cookie cutters and decorated with sprinkles, little peanut butter cookies with a Hershey’s Kiss pressed in while cooling, peppermint bark, and more.

A day before the party, a salmon ball and an ice ring for the non-alcoholic punch was made. The day of the party, it was all hands on deck prepping the quarters. Hawaiian meatballs were simmering. The large teapots were filled and the coffee was percolating. Oh, yes, my folks don’t drink and don’t have alcohol at their parties … which is key to what happened.

People showed up and met neighbors over great finger food, culminating in a Christmas carol sing around the upright piano. Then everyone went home and remembered the past evening without regrets (no alcohol, so no overindulgence or incidents). The next year, people asked when the Browns’ party was going to be. It became an annual tradition and a want-to-attend event always ending with carols, the last being “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

Time passed and we children grew up and my folks retired near the base. They remained active in chapel, so they had retired friends, neighbors, and younger chapel members showing up. Then their children had children who grew into their own musical talents so the carol sing gained an accompanying band.

Lord willing, I’ll be there this year with my sisters, brothers-in-law, and their children (some young adults). We wish you a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

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There are 10 comments.

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  1. Arahant Member

    That’s a lovely story and a lovely memory set to have. Given the title and the start in old military housing, I was hoping for a good ghost story, but this was even more fun. So, December 17th? That would be a good date for a holiday party.

    This conversation is an entry in our Group Writing Series with the December theme of Holiday Traditions and Treats. If your family had an interesting tradition or you’d like to share a recipe for a holiday treat, come sign up right now. We still have plenty of openings in our December schedule.

    Group writing is a chance to dip your feet into writing on Ricochet. Never started a conversation here before? This is a great way to do it. You don’t have to be brilliant or politically astute. All you have to do is share a little bit of yourself, perhaps a childhood memory. Come join in the fun.

    • #1
  2. zandertunz Member

    Thanks for the charming story. Well-told! Merry Christmas to you and yours as well.

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  3. Mim526 Member

    I had a German friend that made one of the best fruit desserts I’ve ever had, but can’t remember what she called it.  It had custard and fruit (bananas were my favorite), but it wasn’t like any cake I’ve had before or since and I’m not sure it was a fruit tart either.

    Never had German honey cakes but if they’re half as good as the dessert my friend made, they’re fantastic.

    Enjoyed the story.  Have a wonderful Christmas with your family, @cliffordbrown.

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  4. Jules PA Inactive
    Jules PA

    A heartwarming story. I’m now curious about the German honey cakes.

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  5. Arahant Member

    Sounds like Mr. Brown could take another day on the list and post the recipe. ?

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  6. EJHill Podcaster

    I like Army doctors better than I like Army lawyers. Fröhliche Weihnachten!

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  7. PHCheese Inactive

    Thank you and the same to you and your great family.

    • #7
  8. TG Thatcher

    Thank you for sharing this, Clifford.

    • #8
  9. Rocket Surgeon Inactive
    Rocket Surgeon

    Thank you Clifford, and thanks for the link to a lebkuchen recipe – it appears to be like one of the kuchen my Grandmother (b. 1860) made for Christmas time.

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  10. Hypatia Inactive

    My parents didn’t drink either; I think because my father was the only doctor for miles around and they felt they should avoid even the appearance of impropriety.  But nonetheless they hosted many dinner parties and traditionally, a New Year’s Eve party where, apparently, the joy of fellowship produced a similar euphoria: people laughed, they guffawed–they ate, and ate, and drank unspiked mulled cider.  I’ve never been sure whether some of the guests may have tanked up before they arrived, but at least if they did, they’da been sober on the drive home.

    I aspire to emulate my mother ‘s  legendary hospitality!  But–I like my wine!

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