Amber Harper looks forward to Christmas all year long.
The newlywed Randolph native, who now resides in Wattsburg, Pa., is making traditions for herself and her new husband, Nelson, while incorporating his family’s traditions with hers. Although they spent a lot of time getting from one home to another, they managed to spend time with each family last year, while still making time for their own celebration.
They started their two days of family celebrations by attending church with her parents on Christmas Eve. Afterward they took presents and food and headed down the hill to Amber’s Aunt Rosemary’s house where all of the Andrews family members, who could make it home, attended.
It is tradition for everyone to bring their specialty dish each year. They always start dinner by saying grace. The adults eat in the dining room and the children and teenagers eat with their cousins while sitting on the furniture, on the floor or even on the steps in the living room.
Harper has fond memories of her cousin Mark Weaver’s flaming punch, her aunt surprising the young people with gifts after the family discontinued exchanging gifts and her Uncle John always organizing a Christmas trivia game while wearing a bouncy Santa hat.
“There’s no arguing or picking sides. When Christmas is here, we are one family. That’s why I like it.”
In the past, the majority of the relatives would go to the midnight mass. Many family members sang in the choir and for a few years, Mrs. Harper and two of her cousins directed the children’s play at the earlier service.
“Every year as I left the church, the snow would begin to fall,” she recalls.
They will stay overnight at her parents’ house on Christmas Eve and then leave Randolph after the presents are opened. The last stop on the two-day Christmas tour is at Nelson’s parents’ house in North East, Pa., where his mother has dinner ready.
“Dessert is his mom’s famous orange rolls,” she said. “We open stockings by the fire and return home afterward for a mini-Christmas.”
The new wife enjoys all things Christmas, especially the decorating and helps her mother and grandmother with this. She is excited about being a new member on her church’s decorating committee. This year her husband helped her decorate every nook and cranny of their home. There are Santas, carolers and nativities on the sills of the large garland-decked windows and mingled with other red and green decorations throughout the home.
“I like everything Christmas, the movies, the music and the lights, because it brings joy.”
The couple started the tradition of reading “Twas the Night Before Christmas” last year and will have a new tradition this year, when they break out the Christmas pajamas. Another tradition is to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” on Christmas Day by the lights of their blue spruce tree. Last summer, they visited Seneca Falls, N.Y., the town that claims it was the inspiration for Frank Capra’s mythical Bedford Falls in the movie.
It is her plan to leave the Christmas tree up throughout the month of January.
“I definitely would say my Christmas spirit comes from my grandmother, Phyllis McElwain,” Harper said. “You couldn’t walk through her yard because it was full of decorations. She had the front and back yards completely decorated. The inside was the same. We actually had to look for some place to sit at Christmas time.”
The McElwains have recently made the decision to no longer do the extensive decorating of their Randolph yard.
“They would always be in competition with their neighbors,” adds the granddaughter. “If the neighbors put it up, they (the grandparents) would have the same thing, only bigger.”
“My grandmother made homemade suckers in spearmint, wintergreen and cinnamon and passed them out to the neighbors and she would bake sugar cookies and invite the grandchildren to frost them.”
During the holidays, the granddaughter loves to bake pumpkin pies and Christmas cookies.
“I’m not really a cooker,” she admits.
Preparing meals isn’t an issue in their home, because Harper is a chef. Due to his wife needing a gluten and lactose-free diet, he willingly adapts recipes to meet her needs and enjoys the challenge of doing so.
“I know my husband is from God because he is everything I prayed for,” she said.
The Christmas enthusiast is a home health care coordinator at Chosen Inc., an Erie, Pa., medical equipment lending outlet. She took dance lessons for twenty-eight years and has taught a variety of dance, mainly tap, for ten years. She collects angels, cardinals and sea turtles.
Nelson Harper is the cheese shop manager at Reverie Creamery. They are members of Park United Methodist Church in North East, Pa. As a couple, they enjoy doing an hour of devotions each day. They like outdoor activities, such as hiking, canoeing and swimming.
“I love being on the water and singing and dancing,” she said, “and I love anything Disney. My favorite movie is “Pinocchio.”
Joey, a 2-year old Retriever-Border Collie mix, and a 6-year old Jack Russell Terrier, named Cleo, are in charge while the couple are at their jobs and maybe after they return home.
The Harpers have included the recipes they have adapted hoping others will benefit from them and possibly use them for their Christmas celebrations. The couple substitute meatballs in Harper’s mother’s Christmas kielbasa dish.
GLUTEN FREE ICE BOX COOKIEs
1 1/2 c gluten-free flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
3 c old fashion oats
1 c brown sugar, packed
1 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 c dried cranberries or raisins
In medium mixing bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda, and oats. Set aside. In a separate large bowl with an electric mixer, cream the sugars and shortening until light. Mix in eggs and vanilla and then dry ingredients. Fold in cranberries or raisins. Divide the dough in half. Roll each half into a log and wrap each log in foil. Refrigerate overnight. When chilled, with a small sharp knife, cut the dough into 1/4-inch slices. Bake 2-inches apart on greased cookie sheets at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until the cookies are firm to touch or golden brown on the bottom. Place on a cooling rack.
NON-DAIRY GLUTEN-FREE PUMPKIN PIE
1/3 c walnuts
1/3 c pecans
1 c brown sugar
2 mashed bananas
1-15 ounce can pumpkin
3/4 c packed brown sugar
1 T cornstarch
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ginger
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Add nuts to a gallon size ziploc bag. Using a meat cleaver or rolling pin, crush the nuts to desired consistency. In a bowl, mix together 1 cup brown sugar, nuts and bananas. Spray pie plate with cooking spray. Place the crust mixture into the pie plate. Smooth with a spatula until entire plate is covered.
In a large bowl, combine eggs, pumpkin, brown sugar, cornstarch, seasonings and banana. Pour over crust. Cover with foil. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 25 minutes. Check with a fork. If fork comes out clean, pie is done. If not, bake for another 10 minutes or until fork comes out clean. Cool.
2 lbs ground Turkey
1 onion, diced
1 T salt
1 1/2 tsp thyme
1 1/2 rosemary
1 1/2 Italian seasoning
15 crushed gluten-free crackers
10 oz currant jelly
5 oz concord grape jelly
2 T apple cider vinegar
2 T brown sugar
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease 2 cookie sheets and set aside. In a large bowl, thoroughly combine all meat ball ingredients. Roll mixture into balls and place 1 inch apart on prepared cookie sheets. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes.
While Meatballs are cooking, plug in a large crock-pot and set on low setting. Put all sauce ingredients into the crock-pot. Stir until combined and no lumps appear. Drain grease from meatballs and then add to sauce. Cook for 1hour. Turn crockpot to warm.
GRANDPA’S FAMOUS CHRISTMAS PUNCH
1 2liter of 7 up
1 bottle of sparkling red grape juice
1/2 carton fat-free sherbet
Pour 7-Up and sparkling red grape juice into a punch bowl. Mix with a whisk to combine. For added sweetness, add desired amount of sherbet.