I don’t think it’s a secret, nor do I think it will come as a surprise to anyone, but I absolutely love Christmas! I descend from a long line of Clark Griswold-wannabes. In fact, my paternal grandfather used to regularly win the Christmas lighting contest our local newspaper sponsored bak in the 1940s and 1950s. My dad inherited his flair for holiday decorating, and our house and yard was decorating to the nth degree every year. My family loves tradition and everything it brings with it at Christmas time, including the music, food, travel, decorating and wardrobe.

Holiday aromas are what stand out to me. We seem to rely mostly on our eyes and ears, but to me, certain smells can evoke memories and transport me back decades. I can picture myself sitting in a kitchen — mostly likely one of my grandmothers’ — and helping with the holiday baking in the weeks before Christmas, or helping prepare the meal on the big day. I can still smell my Grandma Steadman’s rutabaga (not my favorite) as it occupied a large bowl in the middle of her massive dining room table. But I can also dial up the aromas of freshly-baked bread, homemade vegetable soup, peanut butter cookies and freshly made candies, among other familiar holiday scents. If I’m channeling my MaMa Kessel’s holiday fare, I can envision oyster dressing, rich gravy and creamed corn in delicate china serving pieces. Both of my grandmothers’ tables looked as if they were used as photographs for Emily Post’s “Etiquette for Every Day,” with the place settings always just so.

One of the reasons I love living in the South is our tradition of formal dinners — maybe not all the time, but at the holidays we tend to gild the lily and make our times together memorable. Even a Low Country boil takes on a certain air of pomp during the holidays.

I remember when I was a newlywed, some newly acquired relatives came to a holiday dinner at our house. Not having a lot of room to set a formal table, I laid out a buffet I thought was to die for. It was gorgeous, and had a very specific order. Silverware, napkins, plates, main dishes, side dishes and beverages. Desserts were on a separate table.

Suddenly, one of the guests began reaching around and over items to get to what she wanted, paying no heed to the meticulous order I had created. I mustered up all my good home training, and guided her (gently) to the beginning of the line. Of course, she took offense, and told me in no uncertain terms her family didn’t “stand on ceremony.” I finally lost my composure and replied, “Well, my family thinks ceremony is important.” I had to avoid her the remainder of the day. Later, she did send me a thank you note for the dinner, so clearly, some form of ceremony was important to her as well.

Having standards for dining, or any other means of social interaction, doesn’t mean you’re stuffy, stodgy or miserable. I think having a nicely set table makes for a more enjoyable meal. People seem to slow down, converse with one another and take the time to really enjoy the experience. In fact, I think in our rush to be “modern,” we are ditching longtime traditions, and losing our culture and civility along with them. For this Christmas season, I’m going to try to slow down, and even with an incredibly frenetic schedule, take time to enjoy the traditions and attempt to carry them through into the upcoming New Year.

This issue is packed with tradition. In the Spotlight, Santa Claus answers questions about what all boys and girls, need to do to receive Christmas gifts. He also tells us where he spends his off-season, and about his other gig as an entertainer.

For our centerpiece, we visited several shops, and although we weren’t able to cover all 12 days of Christmas, we certainly covered several, and have some interesting, and rather uncommon, gift ideas. As always, we made the rounds to all the big events, and have plenty of pictures of your friends and neighbors.

Santa’s watching you!

Enjoy the issue!