The last month of 2019 has arrived.  Along with December comes the busy-ness of the Christmas season.  Shopping for presents – gifts for those we hold dear, and gifts for those who may be not-so-dear.  Holiday music fills the stores, is tuned in on the radio, and reverberates from the rafters of church buildings across the land. 

As we listen to the timely melodies, we notice different themes.  Some songs remind us that we are honoring the birth of Jesus.  Others bring back memories of past holidays with friends and family, filling us with a deep sense of nostalgia.  There are tunes that fill us with joy, and there are those which may leave us feeling sad and lonely.  Then we have the ones I would much rather do without.  Like the one I heard when my alarm went off on Thanksgiving morning.  It may be sung by a popular group; however, I was not happy to hear it blaring out at me that day – it was most inconvenient.

One way people use Christmas music to bless others is by going Christmas caroling.  Several years ago, I wrote about my most treasured memory of doing just that.  Here is the story:

“Christmas caroling has to be one of those “cold hands, warm heart” things.  Weather does not always cooperate.  The temperature on one of the coldest caroling nights I recall attending was below zero – many degrees below zero, with wind chill taking it down even lower.  My husband and I took our small children to a friend’s home where they would be cared for while we went on our wintry adventure.  The carolers among our group were so bundled up we could hardly be recognized.  We loaded up into vehicles and set out.

“When we reached each destination, cars were left running while we sang our songs of Christmas to surprisingly eager audiences.  Each one was made up of one or two elderly people from our church congregation.  They were so touched that anyone would brave the frigid temperatures to come and sing to them.  More than one person made the remark that they had not expected to have carolers that year because it was so cold.  We may have felt frozen, yet we knew that we had brightened the Christmas season for someone else.

“After we visited the last of our intended recipients, we piled into our cars and headed to our final destination for the evening…a place to warm up with hot chocolate, coffee, tea…anything to erase winter’s chill.  We munched on snack foods and enjoyed the fellowship that comes with friendship.  As we left for our own homes that night, we were a group of people that may have suffered cold hands; however, our hearts were bursting with the warmth that came from knowing that we been a blessing to others.”

Most, if not all, of the folk that our group sang to that night are no longer living.  At least one of the carolers has joined them in Heaven.  For me, the recollection of that special evening is worth the freezing fingers and toes that I suffered through on that cold night.

Need to warm up after an evening of caroling or a long day of Christmas shopping?  A good, hot beverage will help.  I tried the first two recipes this past weekend; the others are some from my “tried-and-true” stash.  I have always been allergic to chocolate, so my mother created a warm drink for my siblings and me.  She called it “cocoa;” however, there is no cocoa in it.  Since I have a son who “inherited” my allergy, I used the same ingredients Mom did to come up with my own version, naming it “Un-Cocoa.”  My children loved it, including the two that didn’t have the allergy problem.  Recently, my daughter informed me that she often preferred it over real hot chocolate.  I am including the directions in case others would like to try it.

Hot and Fruity Cider Punch

2 quarts apple cider

2 cups orange juice

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup honey

10 whole allspice

5 whole cloves

1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick

1 lemon, sliced (optional)

Bring first 6 ingredients to a boil in a large pan; reduce heat and simmer 1 hour.  Pour mixture through a wire-meshed strainer into a container; discard spices.  If desired, add lemon slices to punch just before serving.  Serve warm.

Holiday Cranberry Warmer

1-1/2 quarts (48 ounces) cranberry juice cocktail

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 cup orange juice

1 cup lemonade

1 cup pineapple juice

3 or 4 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks

Combine all ingredients in a Dutch oven (or other large pot) over low heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes or until sugar dissolves.  Remove cinnamon sticks before serving.  Serve warm.

Peanut Buttercup Hot Chocolate       

1 (1 ounce) envelope instant hot chocolate mix       

2 teaspoons creamy peanut butter

In a mug, prepare chocolate mix as directed on package. Stir in 1 or 2 teaspoons peanut butter.

Hot “Un-Cocoa”

4 cups milk

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons instant tea powder (plain, unsweetened)

1-1/2 teaspoons instant coffee granules

1/4 cup sugar

1-2 teaspoons vanilla (to taste)

Pour milk into saucepan; stir in all other ingredients.  Heat slowly until serving temperature, stirring occasionally.  Do not boil.

Hot Almond ‘n’ Cream Drink

1 cup butter

1 cup sugar

1 cup packed brown sugar

2 cups vanilla ice cream, softened

2 teaspoons almond extract

Ground nutmeg

In a saucepan over low heat, cook and stir the butter and sugars for 12-15 minutes or until the butter is melted.  Pour into a large mixing bowl; add the ice cream and extract.  Beat on medium speed for 1-2 minutes or until smooth, scraping the bowl often. 

Yield: 4 cups of mix (16 servings)

Note: Mix may be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator up to 1 week.

To make one serving:

Spoon 1/4 cup of mix into a mug; add 3/4 cup boiling water and stir well.  Sprinkle with nutmeg.  Serve immediately.