I grew up in an incredibly stable environment. I had the same address for my entire childhood (and still have it now!). I went to the same school K-12. My parents are still married—going on 35 years soon. I was really fortunate to have that kind of security as a kid.
That being said, for all the benefits that kind of stability gave me, I think it also made it a little hard on me to accept change. I’m not really the most flexible of folk (some would call it “stubborn”). And probably part of that comes from the fact that I never really had to accept change growing up. I never had to deal with much of any kind of turmoil. Dealing with upheaval wasn’t a skill I learned early on.
Of course, turmoil is par for the course of adulthood, so now that I’m solidly into my thirties, I think I’m finally getting the hang of not completely melting down when something doesn’t go the way I think it should—but it hasn’t been an easy journey getting there (just ask my patient husband). I’m becoming much more go-with-the-flow as I get older, and let me tell you, it’s a much more awesome way to go through life.
One of the hardest places for me to accept change has been holiday traditions. I think because I had such a stable childhood, I decided that if something was a “tradition” it was completely sacred. Because my childhood (and especially, my holiday celebrations) were the same every year, they felt sacred to me, and anything that threatened to change those felt like a direct assault on me and my way of living.
Thankfully, as we get older, we grow up, too. And now with a few years of widely varying holiday celebrations under my belt, I’m learning the truth is that traditions don’t make or break the holidays. Sure, there is something nice about connecting to the past, but there are so many more important things at the holidays than checking off items on a to-do list. It’s fun not to put so much pressure on the holidays. We don’t have to eat this or drink that or do this or watch that. We get to eat, drink, do and watch what we want.
Like with everything else in life, sometimes traditions need to grow, morph, change or even completely disappear as our lives grow and develop. People get married or divorced or sick or moved or have kids or whatever else happens that means big life changes, and traditions have to change as well—it isn’t an attack on anything. It was just life. And the coolest thing about change? Sometimes things have to change to let something new in. And that something new might be even better. Get this. Ole stubborn me actually understands that change is healthy. Go figure.
I no longer look at traditions as sacred, but I do enjoy doing a few things every holiday season that help me connect with my roots. One tradition we always had at Christmas was drinking wassail. It was a big deal when I was finally old enough to have a mug of wassail at my first Christmas after my 21st birthday. I have such fond memories of the sweet smell of cranberry juice, wine and mulling spices filling my parents’ kitchen.
Since those days, our family Christmas celebration has morphed and changed (as you would expect as us kids get older and have our own kids), but a lot of our old traditions have found their way into our new celebrations. Wassail still makes an appearance every holiday season. I could say something like, “it wouldn’t be Christmas without wassail!” but that isn’t the case. But man, wassail sure is delicious! And I like having a warm mug of cozy when celebrating with my friends and family
Wassail has a lot of varying forms, but this cranberry and wine version was always the one we had in the house at the holidays. It’s wonderful for holiday gatherings, because you can just combine all the ingredients in a slow cooker, put out a ladle and a few glasses, and let your guests serve themselves. I promise, they’ll keep coming back for more.
The original version of this recipe is buried in the early pages of my blog. Back before I knew how to write a recipe or photograph food. I figured wassail was too important of a recipe in my life to get lost back in my early days!
Now that I have a little non-wassail-drinking baby nugget of my own, traditions take on a whole new meaning. Of course, I want to create a magical, wonderful holiday season for my daughter every year. And I hope she can have the kind of stability I had growing up. And I want her to be connected to her roots. But I also want her to understand that the joy of the holidays goes so far beyond what movie you watch or what food you eat or how you celebrate. I think the Grinch taught us all that.
This slow cooker cranberry wassail is a mulled wine drink that is the perfect thing to serve at the holidays. Double or triple it for a crowd!
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 6 cinnamon sticks
- 6 whole cloves
- 6 whole allspice berries
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 bottle dry red wine
- 2 cups pure, unsweetened cranberry juice (not cranberry juice cocktail)
- Combine all ingredients in the basin of a slow cooker. Simmer on low for two hours before serving, then keep slow cooker on to keep the wassail warm for serving.