As the holidays descend on us and our shopping carts (both real and digital) become filled with gift cards and the newest high-tech gadgets, it’s easy to become nostalgic for the Christmases of old.
For me, the conclusion of Thanksgiving—with my belly sufficiently stuffed and the Cowboys having brought the festivities to either a joyous or disappointing end—always meant the beginning of a magical month.
It meant the streets of Greenville would come aglow with lights. It meant the live Nativity scene at Ridgecrest Church. It meant the long-awaited trip to Kadee Christmas Tree Farm to choose the perfect tree.
It meant egg nog and presents under the tree and stockings above the fire place and whispers of Santa. And it meant my mother’s Chex Mix.
There must be a million different recipes for holiday dishes and desserts, from glazed ham and spiked punch to fruitcake and fudge. But none of them—and I mean none—usher in the smell and taste of the Christmas season like Mom’s Chex Mix.
It’s a simple enough snack, I suppose, consisting of Chex and Kix cereals, pretzels, peanuts, cashews and other nuts. But when seasoned just right with Worcestershire sauce, a myriad of spices, and Mom’s special touch, then popped in the oven until it reaches the perfect crispness, it’s transformed into a Christmas delicacy.
I couldn’t tell you when Mom started the Chex Mix tradition (or if she started it) and I couldn’t say if the recipe was her own creation or something she found in an old, withered copy of Country Living, then built upon, molded, and loved into her own. It doesn’t matter.
What matters is that Christmas doesn’t taste like candy canes and apple cider to me; it tastes like Mom’s Chex Mix. What matters is that Christmas doesn’t smell like pine needles and cinnamon; it smells like fresh-baked Chex Mix. Her dish is as much a part of the holiday season as trees and lights and “Ho-Ho-Ho,” and that is what matters.
I worked this Thanksgiving, missing out on family, feast, and football. But my wife and kids attended my folks’ festivities, and when I had chance, I sent my bride a text asking if Mom had made Chex Mix.
Lucky me, she responded in the affirmative.
Christmas traditions evolve over the years. And lord knows Christmas gifts change. Santa’s bag doesn’t hold as many baseballs, BB guns, and Barbie dolls as it once did, as children increasingly ask for iPads, cellphones and video games. And the Christmas lights around town don’t seem to glow quite as bright as they once did, for me anyway.
But the Christmas tree farm is still there and producing good trees. And, last I heard, you can check out the live Nativity on Christmas Eve. And, best of all, when I collapse on the couch to watch “Elf” or “Die Hard” (it is a Christmas movie!), I can still do so with a bowl of Chex Mix.
PATRICK C. HARRISON III