Holiday Traditions at the Dinner Table

A person could find traditions every where they looked.  The tradition of the biggest pep rally before your favorite's team homecoming football game. The tradition of decorating for the seasons. The tradition of visiting your grandma every year for her birthday who is now 97! The tradition of taking first day of school pictures. The list goes on. We all have them and we don't even know it sometimes.

But what item makes any of the above more of a tradition. Food! On the first day of school, it is always nice to send the kiddos away with a big breakfast, maybe an omelet? Pancakes? Waffles? When decorating a house for a new season, what makes it even better when it smells like that season as well. The smell of grilling in the summer, maybe it is the smell of pumpkin spice for the fall, and maybe chili for the winter.

The Lake Life Okoboji magazine team has done a lot of thinking about traditions the past couple months and has decided to share with all of our readers the answer to one question:

You know it is Christmas when you see what on the table?


Swedish Tea Ring

4 C All-Purpose Flour

2 PKGs Active Dry Yeast

1 C Milk

½ C Sugar

½ C Butter (softened)

1 t Salt

2 Eggs


4 T Butter

½ C Brown Sugar

½ C Cut Dates

½ C Maraschino Cherries, halved

½ C Pecans

Powdered Sugar Icing

1 C Sifted Powdered Sugar

1-5 T Milk

¼ t Clear Vanilla


Combine 2 C flour with yeast in small saucepan, heat and stir milk, sugar & ½ C butter with salt till warm (120º –130º). Cool.

Add to flour mixture with mixer along with eggs. Beat on low 30 seconds and high for 3 min, scraping the bowl. Using a spoon, mix in as much of the remaining flour as you can.

Turn out on a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough remaining flour. Make a moderately soft dough that smooth and elastic. 3–5 minutes.

Shape into a ball. Place in a greased bowl, and turn once. Cover & Let rise in a warm place until dough doubles in size.

Punch dough down. Turn out onto lightly greased surface.

Cover and let rest 10 min.

Roll out dough to form a large 15" circle. Spread with 4 T softened butter. Sprinkle all of the brown sugar, date pieces, maraschino cherries, and chopped pecans. Start from a long side, roll up dough, jelly-roll style. Pinch seams to seal. Place on a greased baking sheet. Pinch ends together and form a circle. Snip with scissors, 12 cuts on top. Gently pull apart and twist section backwards with fingers. Cover and let rise until nearly double.

Back in a 350º preheated oven for 25-30 min, or until bread sounds hollow when tapped, covering loosely with foil for the last 10-15 minutes to prevent over browning.

Remove from baking sheet.

Drizzle Icing over warm tea ring.

Growing up we had a lot of traditions, but mostly it was the places we went. For Christmas Eve we would go to my Grandparent's house and stay there until the midnight mass service. We opened our present from Grandma and Grandpa, which was always a pair of pjs!

Christmas day we always celebrated at my parent's house, where all of my mom's side would come to our house. It was a large potluck dinner. My mom would cook the ham and others would bring their favorites, which seemed to change every year. But we could always bank on Aunt Gail's pecan pie!

After meeting my husband and starting to be included in his holiday festivities, I noticed many other traditions. It really didn't matter where we were, Christmas Eve, there was a detailed menu. It consisted of ham, potato salad, breads, fruit cocktail salad,  homemade cookies and candies. Sweets that would challenge Willy Wonka's factory!

But there was one bread in particular. One of my favorites, the Swedish Tea Ring. My mother-in-law Collette Travis used to make just one for the holidays. Now she makes two to three during the holiday season so we can have them through the whole weekend. So to answer the one important question of "You know it is Christmas when you see what on the table?" It would be the Swedish Tea Ring. Then I know it really is Christmas.


Chicken Noodle Soup

Serves: 6 bowls

2 Large Chicken Breasts

2 C Diced Carrots

1 C Diced Celery

1 C Diced Potato

½ C Diced Onion

1 t Parsley

32 oz. Chicken Broth

8 oz. Egg Noodles

Chicken Bouillon, Granular - to taste

Salt and Pepper - to taste

Cook chicken in 6 C water until tender.

Remove chicken from water and shred. Set aside.

Add chicken broth to water the chicken was cooked in.

Add carrots, celery, potato, onion, and parsley to liquid.
Cook until tender. Add granular chicken bouillon, salt, and pepper
to taste.

Add shredded chicken to veggie and liquid. Simmer over low for 40 min.

In a separate pan, cook egg noodles as directed on package.
Add to soup mixture once cooked.

May need to add more water if texture becomes too thick as is
heated and reheated.

Family gatherings come and go but one thing is for sure — there will be more than enough food, and if you don't leave full, that is your own problem! When it gets to be the holidays, it is sometimes hard to get everyone together. Having a large family on my dad's side means mixing things up—gathering when is most convenient for everyone to make it—which means sometimes it is not even on a holiday.

However, on my mom's side of the family there are far fewer and a standing tradition—after attending Christmas Eve church service, we go over the river and through the woods to my grandmother's house. Walking into the house, you smell the aroma of soups, cookies, candies, and breads. Too many soups for the amount of people but we love variety! But

one soup is always there, my mom's chicken noodle soup. The kind of chicken noodle soup that warms the soul and makes youthankful for those gathered around you at special times like these. Sitting around the table with my fiance, cousin, and nephews slurping homemade chicken noodle soup—then I know it really is Christmas.


Snowball Cookies

1 C Unsalted Butter, softened

5 T Granulated Cane Sugar

2 t Pure Vanilla Extract

2 C Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

¼ t Salt

2 C Finely Chopped Pecans or Walnuts

1 ½ C Confectioners' Sugar for dusting the cookies twice

Heat oven to 325°F.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and then beat until well mixed.

Slowly add the salt. Then add flour and pecans or walnuts; beat at low speed, scraping bowl occasionally, until well mixed. Divide the dough in half and refrigerate in plastic food wrap for 45 minutes.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. Place confectioners’ sugar in a small bowl or bag; set aside. Shape dough using a small, 1-inch spring-loaded scoop to make sure each scoopful is level. Roll dough between palms of hands to achieve a small rounded ball. Place them 2 in. apart onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake in preheated oven until the cookies are just beginning to brown, about 12 to 14 minutes. Don’t overbake. The underside of the cookies should only be lightly browned, and the cookies shouldn’t crack—a sign of overbaked snowball cookies.

Cool on wire racks for about 2 minutes. Remove cookies from baking sheets using a metal cookie spatula. While cookies are still warm, gently roll them in the confectioners’ sugar. Place the sugar-coated cookies on wire racks to cool completely. Roll cookies once again in the confectioners’ sugar.

When using 1-inch size (very small) cookie scoop, this makes about 6 dozen small cookies. Larger cookie scoops will make larger sized cookies and yield fewer amounts.

Snowball cookies are beautiful on a pretty plate and a favorite of mine at Christmas time! These cookies are perfect with a hot drink and remind me of my Grandma Charlotte! Her door was always open and the cookie jar was continually full, rotated with family favorites. While all of her cookies tasted delicious, the snowball cookie is one that always reminds me of the immense love she had for me and all of her family. Grandma usually made them at Christmas time, and they often came with a cup of homemade hot chocolate.

I love this delectable buttery, nutty, round shortbread cookie that’s attached with special nostalgia for a grandma I love and miss.


Grandma's Cheeseball

8 oz. Cream Cheese

1/4 C Butter

7 Slices Bacon, Crispy

2 t Chives

5 oz. Old English Cheese

1/4 - 1/2 t Smoke

Combine cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Add crumbed bacon and chives. Shape into ball and refrigerate until cold.

Mix Old English and smoke, frost ball.

This cheese ball is the first ting gone from the goody table at our Christmas potluck. Luckily for us, Grandma always makes an extra one and hides it in the back of the refrigerator! After working up an appetite following an intense game of "spoons," everyone heads back to the food table.

Magically a second cheese ball appears! I hope your family enjoys this easy recipe as much as we do.


Marie's Salad

1 Head Lettuce

5 Slices Bacon, Cooked & Crumbled

4-6 Green Onion

4 T Sunflower Nuts

1/2 C Sliced Almonds

1/2 C Chowmein Noodles



4 T Sugar

1 1/2 t Salt

2 t Accent

1/2 t Pepper

2 T Vinegar

1/2 C Oil

Toast almonds for 5-7 minutes. Mix all salad ingredients in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix dressing ingredients.

Add dressing JUST BEFORE serving.

I got this salad recipe from my friend Marie Wagner who hosted a dinner party almost 25 years ago, and although it's not your "traditional" Christmas dish, it is the one thing my family insists I make every Christmas (and any other family get-togethers). I usually double it for large gatherings and there's never any left over. Make sure you don't add the dressing until right before it's time to eat so everything stays nice and crisp!


Sugar Cookies

Makes about 4 dozen 3-inch cookies

3/4 C Shortening, Softened

1 C Sugar

2 Eggs

1 t Vanilla

2 1/2 C All-Purpose Flour

1 t Baking Powder

1 t Salt



2 C White Crisco Shortening

2 lbs Powdered Sugar

1 T Almond Flavoring

1 C Milk

Mix thoroughly shortening, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Blend in flour, baking powder and salt. Cover; chill at least 1 hours.

Heat oven to 400° Roll dough 1/8" thick on lightly floured cloth-covered board. Cut into desired shapes. Place on ungreased backing sheet. Back 6-8 minutes or until very light brown.

For the frosting, whip Crisco, powdered sugar, flavoring alternatively with milk adjusting the amount needed depending how thick you want the frosting to be.

Whip for at least 2 minutes.

Decorated Christmas cookies have showed up at our holiday gatherings throughout the years. As children, my sister Debbie and I were responsible for rolling out the dough, cutting out the cookies, then frosting and decorating them.  A simple recipe from a Betty Crocker cookbook was, and still is, used today to make the cookies. Frosting was thickly slathered on then decorated with Red Hots, green and red sugar sprinkles, plus silver edible pearls.  I usually chose the Christmas trees to decorate as they were the largest and could hold the most frosting and Red Hots.

Through the years, as we grow older the amount of frosting has lessened and the decorations are much more simpler. But the joy of decorating the cookies has never ended. But this year I have decided that the family and I are having a cookie decorating contest. I look forward to the joy of spending time with my family and being reminded of the laughter when I was a little girl.