Friday, December 25, 2009

Fruit Baskets for Christmas

One of the best things about having a hundred-year-old Christmas tree in your living room is that its decorations inform you about what was precious to our ancestors, to the people of the past. I find this intriguing as well as instructive.

At some point during the holiday season, I find time to sprawl out on the sofa and gaze quietly at the Weihnachtspyramide glowing across the room, and reflect on the themes and symbols it carries—for instance, the Knecht Ruprecht and all that he signifies, and so on.

As you might already know from previous posts, I’m keen on fruits, raw fruits. I love their colors, their flavors, their freshness. Spring fruits, summer fruits, autumn fruits, tropical fruits, wild, cultivated, all of ’em.

I delight in the fact that we here in America can procure just about any kind of fruit there is, at any time of the year. This is so wonderful it’s almost appalling. It’s unnatural. It’s Roman in its decadence.

But I’m not complaining; I glory in the availability of such wonderful edibles, and I’m confounded by anyone who can’t agree—those people who “don’t like” fruits, vegetables, and so forth.

When my grandparents were children during the early 1900s, favorite Christmas gifts included candy, nuts, and fresh fruits. It was the same for my parents’ generation, for they have told me how much they appreciated getting an orange on Christmas.

An orange!

I sit on the sofa in the golden glow of that tree and think of oranges in wintertime, during the cold days, long nights, with meals of meat and potatoes, cabbage, and canned green beans. Sauerkraut, if you were German. And anything else preserved, home-canned, particularly during the Depression. All that fresh stuff from the garden in summer? Gone. No longer fresh—in winter they’re all pulled out of a Mason jar. All winter long.

So to have an orange—a zippy, luscious, fresh, bright, juicy orange—on Christmas morning? Exotic, tropical, something from Florida! It would taste like candy, wouldn’t it?

Some of the oldest ornaments on the tree are miniature woven baskets filled with fruit, or shiny glass balls that look kind of like fruit. One of these has most of the “shine” worn off of the balls, but we leave it as it is.

One of the baskets is full of strawberries—plastic (or really some precursor of plastic).

Some of the old fruit baskets appear on our earliest pictures of the tree, such as this one from 1915.

At the very top of the “pyramid” are clusters of fruits—pears, peaches, grapes, citrus, and so on. Some are quite old; some are newer. Grandma was always ready to add more fruit ornaments to the tree. I guess she never really got it out of her head that fruits are precious, valuable, special gifts from the earth.

Fruits please us and nourish us. They’re nature’s original sugar, humankind’s first candy. I can’t take them for granted, either.

Merry Christmas, everyone, Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Leppies (Lebkuchen or Lepkuchen)

Around here—and perhaps all around the world, including Germany—this is the number one German Christmas cookie of all time. Really: The official cookie of Christmas. Authoritative. Can’t have Christmas without lebkuchen—not if you’ve got “sauerkraut in the blood” like we do.

If you have German heritage like us, you probably know what I’m talking about. This is just as Christmassy as the Tannenbaum and “Stille Nacht”—lebkuchen. Sometimes you see it spelled “lepkuchen.” We call ’em “leppies” for fun. We’re German Americans, after all, so whatever’s authentic in Germany might be a little foreign to us.

Indeed—official German forms of this recipe nearly always use honey as the sweetener. According to Erin McCawley Renn, in her important book A Midwest German Christmas: Breads, Cakes, Cookies, Sweets, and Special Foods: Weihnachtsgebäck, -konfekt, und –speisen, Nuremberg, Germany, “became the center of the Lebkuchen industry because . . . [it] was on the direct route north from the Republic of Venice, where the spice ships unloaded anise, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, ginger, and black pepper, and Nuremberg was famous as the center of the finest honey-producing region in Germany.”

But, as Renn points out, Germans who immigrated to America tended to modify their recipes to utilize molasses instead of honey—molasses being cheaper and generally more available. Therefore, among us ethnic Germans here in the Midwest, the “traditional” lebkuchen recipes that came down to us from our immigrant grandmas usually feature sorghum or some other sweetener or combination of sweeteners. Sometimes I use blackstrap molasses!

In my experiments, I’ve found that sorghum is mild and is indeed a pretty good substitute for honey. Blackstrap molasses is delicious, too, with that dark, smoky, almost bitter flavor—and it makes for some truly distinctive cookies.

There’s also such at thing as “white lebkuchen,” which uses white sugar as the sweetener. My recipe for white leppies came from my Grandma S’s collection, and it calls for “cardamom to taste.” (Oooh, don’t throw me into the briar patch!)

The recipes vary considerably, but they almost all have a few things in common. First, they use a wonderful variety of spices, types that are traditionally considered almost medicinal, as digestive aids. These spices make me think of Indian cuisine: Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, pepper, cardamom. Remember the comment about the spice trade? Here you go. When they first appeared in Europe, these were special, precious flavors. So special you reserve them for Christmas.

Another thing most leppies share is candied fruit. Candied lemon peel, candied citron, and candied orange peel pop up a lot. Some newer recipes use “candied mixed fruit,” with that pineapple . . . and whatever those little green things are.

In my family, you can’t have leppies without nuts, and the nuts are usually black walnuts. White leppies tend to include almonds instead. I guess some people use English walnuts and pecans for their lebkuchen, but whatever. With my people, leppies are the number one reason to procure black walnuts every fall. We compete with the squirrels for them.

As Renn also points out, nearly all lebkuchen recipes call for the completed dough to rest for some days before rolling and baking, in order for the flavors to meld.

Many recipes involve large amounts of ingredients and make a huge supply of cookies. Stored in a sealed container in a cool place, leppies can last for months—without any preservatives.

These are apparently pretty healthy cookies, as cookies go, having relatively few calories and being low in fat and cholesterol.

My uncle, a retired Conservation Agent, used to bring a coffee can of leppies and a Thermos of coffee with him on his frozen, late-night stakeouts, waiting in his darkened patrol car for poachers during deer season. His mother’s lebkuchen forever have a special place in his heart.

Lebkuchen recipes are passed down through the generations, sometimes modified, sometimes adhered to with stereotypical Germanic strictness.

In my case, I have the same recipe from both of my grandmas, since one grandma’s mother provided the recipe to both women—they lived on the same street, so Wilhelmine Thomas’s recipe is “grandma’s leppies” for me on both sides of my family. And each modified the recipe slightly to her own preferences.

After all this discussion, I’m not going to give you the precise formula. I will tell you, however, that Great-Grandma Thomas’s recipe calls for a half gallon of molasses, “10 cents citron peel” and “10 cents lemon peel,” “1/2 box of raisins,” “1/2 box of currants.” There’s a certain amount of interpretation required.

Her recipe also calls for “3 or 4 cups cold black coffee.”

Sometimes lebkuchen turn out kind of stiff and hard—but they are all precious in my sight. The stiffer ones are good for dunking. Or you can seal them up along with an apple, which mellows the texture after some weeks.

Yep, I made a ton of leppies this year, and the house smells absolutely marvelous.

Referenced in this post:

Erin McCawley Renn, A Midwest German Christmas: Breads, Cakes, Cookies, Sweets, and Special Foods: Weihnachtsgebäck, -konfekt, und –speisen. Hermann, Mo.: Deutschheim Association, 1999.

How do you get a copy of this book? Its copyright page gives a phone number for the publisher, the Deutschheim Association: 573-486-2200. Here is the association's website. Here is the Missouri DNR's website for the Deutschheim State Historic Site. Finally, the Gasconade County Historical Society sells the book on their website; click here to view that page.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Billy Goats

A recipe from my Grandma Renner. These are Christmas cookies, a kind that you can’t have Christmas without. They’re not tremendously sweet in the ordinary, sugary sense. They’re rich and sweet with dates and have that smoky flavor of black walnuts.

And yes, you must use real black walnuts (not the English kind or any other kind of nut). They’re a key flavor ingredient. (We’ve talked about black walnuts before on this blog.)

(We have also talked about billy goat cookies before, as an example of what I mean by "Opulent Opossum.")

When I was a little kid, I often got fooled by these cookies, because they look something like chocolate chip. But they aren’t. They taste very different.

So here we go. My notes are in brackets.

Billy Goats

Cream together: 1 1/2 c. brown sugar + 1 c. butter.
3 eggs: beat whites, then add yolks.
1 level tsp. baking soda dissolved in 1/4 c. lukewarm to hot water.
1 tbsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. black walnuts [gotta be black walnuts, not any other kind, I mean it]
1 lb. clipped dates [see note below]
2 1/2 c. flour

Make the cookie dough and drop it onto cookie sheets by small spoonfuls. Bake in a moderate (ca. 350-degree) oven like you would other cookies.

Clipped dates: Start with whole (pitted) dates. Using a scissors, starting at one end of the date, snip off alternating diagonals in a sort of herringbone pattern, so you get rhomboidal shapes.

These cookies are called “billy goats,” Grandma told us, because they have little bumps poking out of them. No, I don’t quite understand that, either, but the “point” is that the dates have to be big enough to protrude a bit after you bake the cookies. If you cut them too fine, then I guess you have “nanny goats” instead!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Animal Cookies

We went to Columbia a few nights this past week to assist my mom in making her animal cookies (a.k.a. shape cookies, cut-out cookies, sugar cookies with decorations). Although among her various cookie cutters there are fir trees, bells, wreathes, stars, and holly leaves, a majority of the shapes are of animals.

They include butterflies, fish, birds (swan, rooster, cardinal), and mammals (squirrel, rabbit, elephant, pig, goat, horse, coyote, Scotch terrier, and lion). No reptiles or amphibians, and precious few invertebrates (well, so far).

Mom’s mom used to make animal cookies, too, so this is something my mom and aunt do and remember her by. My aunt’s family, I hear, really let themselves “go” when it’s time to decorate these. Well, they have a bigger family, so it can get louder and more exciting than when it’s just three or four people working.

All the pastry decorations are bought out, whether they’re Christmassy or not; mom does the icing. When I was a kid and mom had more gumption, she’d mix up different colors of icing—so it was possible to have some pink elephants, for instance. This year she just did white and green.

We always strive to come up with creative twists instead of the literal decorations you might imagine. A fish turned on its head becomes an ear of corn, using yellow sugar sprinkles down the middle and green lines down the sides. When you rotate the swan just so, his body can look like the pointy face of a vulture, with a skinny little U-shaped neck.

Yes, we do decorate many of the cookies “straight,” so we can serve them to high-class company whenever they show up. But I personally prefer the ones that make me laugh because of the whimsy, or even because they’re kinda rude.

Like, I don’t know what’s supposed to be the deal with this Scotty. Hemorrhoids? Did it eat too much jalapeño salsa? Or is she “in season”? Anyway, it cracks me up to see it.

For a long time, we have joked that the “last” cookie, made with scraps not big enough to use a cookie cutter on, is “the amoeba.” It’s a free-form wad of dough simply rolled out and plopped onto a cookie sheet.

But this year, I made a couple of amoebas on purpose, shaping them with a butter knife. Pretty cool, huh?

Mom’s been wanting to wrangle herself out of the Christmas cookie scene. I think she feels underappreciated, or like it’s something that takes a lot out of her. But then again, the fun also perks her up, and she’s out of her mind if she thinks we don’t appreciate it.

This is the kind of thing we’ll remember about her forever—her sitting at the table, icing the cookies with a butter knife, while we sit nearby with toothpick and tweezers, doctoring the decorations and snickering about our creative “discoveries.” Like the year my dad made the first “plaid Scotty.”

Mom customarily tells us to quit being so silly and complains that we need to make sure some of the cookies look “nice.” We adore it when she counters our sillyness, which is really a part of playing along. And because she laughs at our shenanigans even as she shakes her head in mock disgust, I know she adores it, too.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Knecht Ruprecht

Today I’m homing in on one of the oldest Christmas ornaments on our family Christmas tree (the Weihnachtspyramide—I told you about it recently). From a very early age, I was taught to be very careful with this object because it was so elderly. “It’s not a toy,” my parents said, with a certain degree of sternness that told me they meant it.

And of course I wanted to be on my best behavior, ’cause Christmas was around the corner, and I wanted as much loot as possible! And no lumps of coal.

Coal? Lumps of coal? Yes. They told me that if I misbehaved, if I’d been bad during the year, I would get lumps of coal in my Christmas stocking instead of candy and toys. And I’d get switches, too!

That word, in its intended sense, was unknown to me at the time. I did know what light switches were, because we’d had a few replaced in our house, and my brother and I had been given the old switches to play around with. Click, click. On, off. It was kinda fun, and receiving them on Christmas morning wouldn’t be nearly as much fun as chocolate bars and, say, the new Johnny West toys, but it wouldn’t exactly be a “punishment,” either.

It wasn’t until later that I learned that “switches” were light, flexible branches used, basically, for flagellation. Geez. If I didn’t behave, they’d whip me with sticks!

How Germanic, huh? Actually, very Judeo-Christian, and heck, very human. Bad deeds are punished at the end of your year, at the end of your life. The lumps of coal, the switches, amount to the kids’ Christmas-morning version of damnation.

But Santa always comes through in the end and brings presents on Christmas, since kids have loving parents, just as a loving God has redeemed us because he loves his creation. . . . I think that’s the idea, anyway.

But the threats of Christmastime punishments used to be spelled out much differently. I’ve been reading up on the various personages that used to be envisioned by children in December.

Didja know that all the gift-giving used to take place on December 6, which is St. Nicholas Feast Day for the Catholics? St. Nicholas was a patron of children and the poor and had been known for giving gifts to them.

It was the Protestant reformer Martin Luther, and his cronies, who convinced folks to focus more on the birth of Jesus, and to change their gift-giving date to December 25, Christmas. Luther naturally wanted to downplay the importance of Catholic saints and put greater emphasis on the Savior.

But going back to St. Nicholas Day, December 6, it was St. Nicholas who would bring the presents, accompanied by a shady dude who went by various aliases. Essentially, this guy was the devil character, the punisher. A mean ol’ hombre.

He was like an assistant to St. Nicholas, freeing him from the distasteful punishing aspects so he could focus on good cheer, presents, fruit and nuts, and so on. It was a classic case of good cop/bad cop.

So this guy’s cognomens included Aschenklas (Ash Nicholas—for chimney ashes that apparently gave him a dark appearance), Pelznickel or Belsnickel (Furry Nicholas—for the furs he wore), or Knecht Ruprecht (which translates to Knight Rupert).

He generally carried around a sack with coal and sticks. When he appeared “in person”—as a man in a costume, the way kids see Santa Claus today in shopping malls—he would interview kids to find out if they’d been good.

It would feel a lot different than sitting on Santy’s lap, to be asked if you’ve been naughty by someone whose sole job is to punish.

I remember my grandma talking about Knecht Ruprecht occasionally; she must have been one of those kids threatened by his presence, even as she was enticed by the presents of St. Nicholas.

An interesting note is that although Protestant reformers drew St. Nicholas out of the picture, they retained the character of Knecht Ruprecht, apparently because he was not a saint.

My purpose here is not to tell the story of St. Nicholas, or, as the Dutch called him, Sinter Nikolaas, the name that got changed into “Santa Claus” by English speakers. Instead, I wanted to give some attention to poor, forgotten Knecht Ruprecht, the stern one who kept kids minding their p’s and q’s, who has been lost in our frantic flurries to purchase presents and our striving for a “merry” holiday.

So my focus today is on this one old Christmas ornament that’s been in my family since at least 1905, when our first photograph of the tree was made. Back then the horse that he rides had all four legs intact, and it straddled the distance between the two posts at the gateway to the garden.

It’s also in the picture from 1915.

When I was a little kid, I assumed this was just a weird version of Santa Claus—sure, he was skinny and wore somber brown instead of jolly red, and he didn’t look very happy, but he had a white beard . . . and it wouldn’t have been the first time my family did things differently than the rest of America.

Sometime before I can remember, his horse’s legs and one of Rupert’s arms got broken off. It was probably the arm that held the bag of coal and the switches!

This is one of the ornaments that none of us have ever tried to refurbish. We’ve allowed him to “look his age”—partly because as an antique, even in his sad condition, he might be “worth” something. You never know.

So here’s how Knecht Ruprecht is looking today. Like his overall image in the world today, he’s kind of downtrodden.

I don’t think you can blame me for his and his horse’s disabilities, because my parents wouldn’t let me play with him. His injuries must have occurred in the first century or so of his existence, well before I came into the picture.

And anyway, at Christmastime, you know I, of course, was always most certainly an angel . . . Just in case anyone asks . . .

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Righteous German Soul-Food Christmas Cookies

Amen, you all, Ayyyyyyy-men. We baked our springerles this evening! A truly worthy use for the venerable, vintage Maytag Dutch Oven range in our kitchen!

For those of you who don’t know about them, springerles (pronounced springer-leez or shpringer-leez, I’m not sure which) are a pale, light, crispy cookie almost always flavored with anise. Though they can be cut into shapes, they’re usually squares or rectangles and have pretty little patterns imprinted on the top surface.

Some people around here call them “anise cookies.”

You can use special springerle rolling pins to make them, or you can use springerle presses.

Or you can do like I did the first year I made them, and use a butter knife to make little “star” patterns on the top. A blunted toothpick added extra pizzazz. That got kinda tedious, though, with so many cookies.

If you overcook them, they can become incredibly tough. In fact, it is not a big problem if this happens, because they get better as they age: You’re supposed to bake them, let them cool, then pack them in airtight containers for at least a couple of weeks before serving.

This is one of those Christmas cookies—like lepkuchen—that you can store with an apple to enhance the flavor while protecting and perfecting their texture.

Alas, I don’t have either of my grandmas’ recipes for springerles. My recipe comes from that groovy 1949 edition of The Good Housekeeping Cook Book that I got from Cousin Marguerite’s kitchen. (I raved about this incredible book earlier this year.) The springerle recipe is printed on pages 709–10.

I’ll pass it along to you, but this time I’m not copying it word-for-word. I’m changing the wording slightly. The original has instructions written in one long paragraph—I’ve made it easier by adding hard returns and such between the steps. (Yeah! You’re welcome!) My own comments, where I differ with the recipe, appear in square brackets.

I usually double this recipe—for me, this year, doubling it yielded 120 cookies, some smaller than others.


4 1/2 cups sifted cake flour [like Swans Down—and measure it correctly, you!]
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 eggs
1 pound powdered sugar
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind [I use a microplane grater]
anise seeds [or anise extract] [you can use both]

On the First Day, Make and Roll Out the Dough:

1. Sift together the flour and baking powder; set aside.

2. Beat eggs until light [I use a hand mixer].

3. Stir the sugar into the eggs; beat with a spoon until thoroughly combined.

4. Add lemon rind to eggs mixture; add anise extract if using it instead of seeds. Then add the flour mixture. Mix thoroughly. Dough will be stiff.

5. [Cover it so it doesn’t dry out], and chill until firm enough to handle easily.

6. Roll to 1/2 inch thickness on a floured board.

7. Cut into fancy shapes with cookie cutters, or use a springerle rolling pin to impress the surface with patterns, then cut cookies into individual pieces [I use a pizza cutter!]

8. Grease cookie sheets; sprinkle them with anise seed [if using anise seed]. [Using parchment paper on the cookie sheets instead of greasing them is an excellent alternative.]

9. Arrange cookies, 1/2 inch apart, on sheets, and leave them exposed to the air, overnight or for 12 hours. [I’ve found this is a great use for an unheated sunporch. The idea here is to let the surfaces dry a bit so that when the cookies bake and rise, the surface pattern stays intact. And I’ve found you can let them sit longer than 12 hours, depending on humidity and such.]

10. A note about anise oil versus anise extract: Anise oil is much, much stronger; you'll only need a few drops, or a small dribble for a doubled recipe. If you use more, it will end up tasting like black jelly beans, or Nyquil. Anise extract is more easily available, and you'll need to use a lot more of it. At least half a teaspoon, I'd say, or more.

On the Next Day, Bake the Cookies:

1. Bake in a moderate (350 degree) oven for 30 minutes. [Whoa! Mine usually only take about 7 or maybe 10 minutes, depending on thickness! The take-home point here is, Keep an eye on them. They’re done when they just start to turn slightly pinkish on the edges and the bottoms are cooked.]

2. When they’re cool, store them in a covered jar for 2 or 3 weeks before serving.

Makes about 30 cookies. [Though it depends on the cookie size! Most of my springerles are about 2 x 1.5 inches, and I get about 50 or 60 cookies from this recipe, not doubled.]

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Retro Jell-O Recipe No. 62,499

Here is another recipe for you—a vintage Jell-O recipe from the 1930s. It has been a while since I last gave you a Jell-O recipe, hasn't it!

Everyone likes the taste of this one. We love it for a light dessert—remember, “There’s always room for Jell-O”!

It is also good for parties and potlucks this time of year. The presentation can be very striking. It’s supposed to look like an oceanic scene, combining a quenching clarity with the mysterious, murky depths.

Although versions of this recipe are available all over, I got this recipe from the wonderful and gloriously fun book Jell-O: A Biography: The History and Mystery of “America’s Most Famous Dessert,” by Carolyn Wyman (San Diego: Harcourt, 2001), which is another book I strongly recommend. If you think it’s “funny” how previous generations of home cooks got so doggone enthusiastic over Jell-O, you ought to read this book and get a fun little history lesson.

Again, as is my wont, I’m copying this exactly out of the book. The recipe appears on page 47. My notes appear at the end.

’30s: Under-the-Sea Salad

1 can (16 ounces) pear halves in syrup, undrained
1 cup boiling water
1 (3-ounce) package lime Jell-O gelatin
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 (3-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)

Drain pears, reserving 3/4 cup of the syrup. Dice pears; set aside. Stir in boiling water into gelatin and salt in medium bowl at least 2 minutes until completely dissolved. Stir in reserved syrup and lemon juice. Pour 1 1/4 cups into 8 x 4 loaf pan or 4-cup mold. Refrigerate about 1 hour or until set but not firm (should stick to finger when touched and should mound).

Meanwhile, stir remaining gelatin gradually into cream cheese in large bowl with wire whisk until smooth. Stir in pears and cinnamon. Spoon over gelatin layer in pan. Refrigerate 4 hours or until firm. Unmold. Garnish with cinnamon, if desired. Serves 6.

Okay, my friends, here are the notes I promised you:

1. Some recipes I’ve seen for this use ground ginger instead of cinnamon. And that’s good, too. Yum-yum!

2. It’s also common for versions of this recipe to suggest serving it on a platter lined with leaf lettuce. The platter is also sometimes garnished with seedless grapes. (I’d use red seedless for the visual contrast.) Indeed, sometimes you see halved red seedless grapes molded within this concoction, as well.

3. I use Neufchatel cheese instead of cream cheese. Less fat that way. . . Although now you would probably just use a single 8-ounce box instead of the recommended “2 (3-ounce) packages” . . . oh, whatever.

. . . By the way, here is what it looks like prior to unmolding/being turned upside-down:

4. Finally, some hints on construction and unmolding, in case you’re new to the wacky world of Jell-O cookery. Unmolding will be easier if you put a thin layer of vegetable oil on the inside of your mold or loaf pan before putting any Jell-O into it. And seriously, make sure the finished salad is indeed truly firm before attempting to unmold. Prior to unmolding, you can dip the exterior of the mold holding your finished gelatin into warm or hot water to help it release, but don’t do it too long, or the Jell-O inside will melt too much. Finally, the Jell-O slides out of the mold easier if, just prior to unmolding, you have broken the suction by running a butter knife or thin spatula along the inside of the mold.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Governor’s Mansion Candlelight Tours

Today I’m showing you more images from last weekend, specifically the Candlelight Tours at the Missouri Governor’s Mansion. I’ve been to these in the past, and it’s really fun.

The basic deal is, you get in a line, hopefully don’t freeze to death while you wait, walk up the front steps to the portico, pass between massive, polished pink granite Corinthian columns, and then, once inside, you process through the ornately decorated first floor of the mansion. It’s been beautifully restored to 1870s splendor.

There are indeed some real, actual candles lit. Bless their hearts.

The governor and first lady are traditionally there, in the back half of the double parlor, and they cordially greet every single visitor, shaking hands of grown-ups and crouching down to say hello to the little ones.

Mansion docents are in each room, wearing Victorian dresses and such, to answer your questions about the history, architecture, and furnishings.

A choir carols on the magnificent grand staircase, and a Christmas tree stands within its curving, black walnut lines.

With all the visitors milling about, the guards and other staff are there in numbers, dressed in nice suits, smiling, and handing out little candy canes. It’s just a pleasant evening—at least for us visitors.

I’ll bet it’s grueling for the first family and their staff! Still, it’s a wonderful tradition, and an excellent opportunity for us little people to see this lovely building, which actually belongs to all of us.

If you missed it this year, put it on your calendar for next December. The Friday of the first weekend. You’ll be glad you went.

P.S. This post is dedicated to Ann Liberman, whose love and enthusiasm for the Missouri Governor's Mansion is contagious . . . and impressive.