My grandmother grew up poor. But just as my buddy Christy Jordan would say, she was rich in every way that mattered. And my Nana’s story to me about her favorite Christmas was perfect evidence of that…
She was one of six children. Out of necessity, both her parents worked to make ends meet and she was raised by her older siblings, as was so common in those days. Her father was a night watchman at a saw mill and her mother worked at a plant nursery. When Christmas would roll around though, poverty took nothing away from them in the way of holiday magic and excitement.
Every year, each child would be presented with one toy, a homemade outfit, and a small assortment of fruit, nuts, and peppermint candies. And that was a big Christmas to them.
Each year it was always her father’s job to go out and hunt for the perfect Christmas tree. That was his big contribution to the celebration and he took great pride in presenting the perfect cedar tree for trimming. Of course, running down to the tree lot was out of the budget, so he would set out in the woods to track down a prime specimen.
One year in particular, he wasn’t able to find a cedar tree to suit. After hours of searching, in a last ditch effort to provide something, he cut down a holly bush he found. Back at home, feeling a little embarrassed with his haul, he set out to make the puny bush special.
Finding a can of silver paint, he painstakingly brushed every single prickly holly leaf with a shiny coat. They added the few ornaments they had and one small strand of bubble lights. The result, as my grandmother would put it, was the most beautiful, amazing Christmas tree she’s ever had.
It wasn’t about it being the perfect size or color, or even about it being a tree at all. The love he put into that tree made it beautiful. That tree went down in history with her and her family. And something that he thought inadequate, became the main focus of one of the most fond Christmases they ever shared.
Hearing my grandmother tell this story when I was a child, I remember trying to figure out how someone could be so excited about a silver bush and only one toy for Christmas. I mean she would reflect on Christmases past with the same starry-eyed look that I’m sure she had when they first happened.
Today, as an adult with my own child, I have a much better understanding of the importance of a simple, but impactful holiday.
So often we get caught up in the holiday season that we fail to realize the simple things that make it so special. We focus our attention on buying the best gifts and decorating the perfect tree, when the real importance of the holiday lies in sharing the time with our loved ones.
This holiday season, I hope that you’ll take the time to pay attention to the simple things. For one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.
This recipe is one of those simple things that have always made holidays special in our family. Every Christmas would find this on my grandmother’s table. And now, I get the opportunity to share her recipe with y’all.
It’s an old school recipe that often found the finished cake packed back into the graham cracker box and stored in the fridge. She’s made a few changes to the classic recipe over the years and we put it in a baking dish rather than back in the box, but it tastes just as amazing as always.
- 1 (14.4-ounce) box graham crackers
- 1 cup chopped pecans
- 1 (10-ounce) jar maraschino cherries, drained with juice reserved
- 1 cup raisins
- 1 cup firmly packed shredded sweetened coconut
- 1 1/2 cups mini marshmallows
- 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
- Lightly spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Crush the graham crackers using a food processor or add them to a large ziptop bag and crush using a rolling pin. Coarsely chop the cherries.
- Combine crushed graham crackers, pecans, cherries, raisins, coconut, marshmallows, and sweetened condensed milk in a large bowl and mix well. Add reserved cherry juice by the tablespoonful until the mixture comes together, but isn't too soft. I usually add between 2 and 3 tablespoons.
- Turn out into the prepared dish and press flat with your hands. Cover and chill at least 6 hours, then cut into bars. Keep refrigerated.