This Is How It’s Done

 (Photo courtesy of

I once lamented to a friend that I wished my family was more “ethnic.”  What I meant was that I wished my family had more in the way of holiday traditions.

On my father’s side of the family, my Limbacher great-great-grandparents came to the United States from Ruckenhausen, Bavaria, and settled in St. Mary’s, Ohio some time in the early 1850s.  My great-grandfather was born in 1859.  He married a nice German girl and produced my grandfather.  “Pop” married another nice German girl and raised four children, including my dad.

On Mom’s side, the bloodlines are a bit more, well, Heniz 57.  Legend has it that our common Crandall ancestor came to America from Monmouthshire, England.  At the time of his exodus, round-about the mid-1600s, the boundary between England and Wales was a tad fluid, or so I’ve been told.  It’s as likely he was Welsh as English.  At any rate, he settled in Rhode Island and set about breeding as many Crandalls as he could.  (I joke about it, but we really are a far-flung family with a propensity — in the past, at least — for extremely large families.)

So….on Dad’s side it’s Limbacher, Boesel, Gruber, and Gingrich.  German or maybe German-Jewish names to the core.  On the other side, Crandalls up the wazoo coupled with Burdicks, Langworths, Kenyons, and…well, anyone they could lay their hands on.

You’d think there’s be a lebkuchen or plum pudding in the bunch, wouldn’t you?  Maybe a little mistletoe or stille nacht?

Fat chance.

My father once spoke about the Christmases of his childhood, how the tree was put up on Christmas Eve but left undecorated because it was Saint Nicholas who brought decorations as well as presents.  The family would go off to church and some time during the service my grandfather would “step out.”  He returned before the service was over and when they all got home around midnight, to the amazement of the children there was the glorious tree, decorated and decked with gifts.

If Dad ever thought to continue those traditions with his own progeny, my mother put a stop it it pretty darned quick.  She grew up on the rag-end of poverty, with little to spare in the way of Christmas cheer.  You’d think she’d have embraced the holiday traditions of her husband’s family, but no.  She had some definite ideas about how Christmas ought to be celebrated and no one was going to change her mind.  WE decorated the tree, not Santa.  (Or rather, SHE decorated the tree, orchestrating it like Martha Stewart on speed, moving the ornaments we put on if she didn’t like their location.)  Presents were opened on Christmas Day, not on Christmas Eve as they were in my dad’s family).  It was Santa Claus, not Saint Nikolas.  In one fell swoop, Mom single-handedly defeated my entire German bloodline.

Even with Mom’s strong opinions on the topic, I never felt as if we had particular family traditions when it came to Christmas.  I mean, every family I knew decorated their own trees and opened presents on Christmas Day.  There was nothing to distinguish us from everyone else.  We made cookies and fudge like everyone else, ate turkey and pumpkin pie, sang carols.  Nothing gave me a sense of history.

Until the cranberry sauce came along.

Where Mom got the recipe, I’ll never know.  It would be nice to think it was handed down grandmother to daughter from the dim days of my ancient past, but the truth is that she probably copied it off the back of a bag of cranberries or found it in the pages of Redbook or McCall’s magazine.  But of all the things we did through the years, the ornaments that came and went, the Firestone Albums of carols, the Thanksgiving banquets…this cranberry sauce is the one thing that has not changed.  In its way, IT has become my tradition, my little bit of the past carried down through the years.

And now, I give it to you.  Enjoy.


Virginia’s Cranberry Sauce of the Gods

1 bag of cranberries
2 cups of water
1 cup of sugar
2 packages of lemon jello
1 cup of chopped walnuts
1 cup of chopped red grapes

Mix cranberries, water, and sugar in a saucepan.  Cook at a boil for five minutes until berries pop.  Remove from heat and add jello.  Stir very well to dissolve.  Let cool, then add walnuts and grapes.  Mix well, poor into a glass or ceramic contained, cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours.


About Melissa Crandall

Longer ago than I care to admit--although I will--I cut my writing teeth on fanzines and media tie-in novels. Since then, I've moved on to narrative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and essays. I write to explore and understand the world around me, the things I see and experience nearby or from a distance. If I shake myself up, cool. If I shake you up, even better. Not gratuitously--what's the point in that?--but to set what I know, or think I know, on end and realize, "Well, doesn't it look different from this side!" My work is neither sexually explicit nor graphically violent. Let's face it - your imaginations will come up with things far worse than anything I could write, no matter how descriptive. Besides, it's just not my thing. I live in Connecticut with my supportive husband Ed, a cat named Ruby who might just think she's a dog, and an epileptic Australian shepherd named Holly who isn't quite certain anymore who she is, except she knows she loves her mommy.
This entry was posted in Childhood, Christmas, Cranberry Sauce, Essays, Family, geneology, Holiday, Jell-O, Melissa Crandall, Memoir, Thanksgiving, Tradition and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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