ABCs of Christmas, a yummy recipe, and a holiday blog break

#58 in an ongoing series of posts celebrating the alphabet

Please help yourself to some of Susan Branch’s Christmas Coffee Cake 🙂


Ho Ho Ho!

To celebrate the season, here’s an old fashioned Christmas abecedarian by American poet Carolyn Wells. This verse was first published as a picture book by McLoughlin Brothers in 1900, and describes how many of us still define Christmas more than a century later.


by Carolyn Wells

A is for Angel who graces the tree.
B is for Bells that chime out in glee.
C is for Candle to light Christmas Eve.
D is for Dreams which we truly believe.
E is for Evergreens cut for the room.
F is for Flowers of exquisite perfume.
G is for Gifts that bring us delight.
H is for Holly with red berries bright.
I is for Ice, so shining and clear.
J is the Jingle of bells far and near.
K is Kriss Kringle with fur cap and coat.
L is for Letters the children all wrote.
M is for Mother, who’s trimming the bough.
N is for Night, see the stars sparkling now.
O is for Ornaments, dazzling with light.
P for Plum Pudding that tasted just right.
Q the Quadrille, in which each one must dance.
R is for Reindeer that gallop and prance.
S is for Snow that falls silently down.
T is for Turkey, so tender and brown.
U is for Uproar that goes on all day.
V is for Voices that carol a lay.
W is for Wreaths hung up on the wall.
X is for Xmas, with pleasures for all.
Y is for Yule log that burns clear and bright.
Z is for Zest shown from morning till night.


Quadrille, anyone? I suspect Mr Firth would make an excellent dance partner. 🙂

I love all the longstanding traditions surrounding the holiday, but as time passes, I find myself believing less in an idealized Christmas, and more in an idiosyncratic one, shaped by personal memories, adopted customs, and more realistic expectations.

When materialism and madness overwhelm, I like to think about Christmases from my favorite childhood books.


sketch for LIW’s Little House on the Prairie, © 1953 Garth Williams


Remember in Little House on the Prairie when Mr. Edwards risks his life crossing a perilous creek to deliver Santa’s Christmas presents to Laura and Mary? How they loved the shiny tin cups, peppermint sticks, heart-shaped cakes, and pennies in their stockings! Mr. Edwards saved Christmas for those two little girls, and his courage and selflessness made a lasting impression on the entire Ingalls family.


from LMA’s Little Women, art © 2014 Rebecca Green


Then there’s the second chapter of Little Women, when the March sisters deliver their Christmas breakfast to a freezing, starving family with seven children. The very definition of charity and kindness.


“Cratchits’ Christmas Dinner” by Harold Copping (ca.1920’s)


I also enjoy immersing myself in the London of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. How I’d love to sit with Tiny Tim and the rest of the Cratchits as they feast on that big turkey Scrooge has sent them and anticipate the flaming plum pudding!


from Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory, art © 2006 Beth Peck


In Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory, which I faithfully reread every year, Buddy and his older cousin bake fruitcakes for people they’ve only met once or twice or not at all, like Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Somehow this story resonates with me the most. What is made by hand and with love, as well as time spent together, are priceless.

All these stories celebrate the spirit of giving, the essence of Christmas. The greatest gifts are often intangible, the irony being that the giver sometimes gets more in return.

This was certainly the case with my Dad’s Christmas gift this year. What do you give someone who just turned 104 and certainly doesn’t need any more “things”?

When he stopped using his computer a couple of months ago, we knew he’d entered the slow decline of his final journey. What sustains you when your body is physically failing? What is the most precious thing you possess at this stage? Memories of a life well lived.


My photobook cover


When he was on his computer, Dad spent a lot of time looking at old family photos. So I thought of making a photobook — memories of favorite times Len and I spent with him. As the daughter who lived “away,” these times were actually trips we made to Hawai’i and trips Dad and Mom made to England and Virginia to visit us.

They visited England for the first time in the late 70’s to attend our wedding. They experienced snow for the first time when they spent Christmas with us in Virginia (1983). They came here again in 1997 for the Women in Military Service to America Memorial Dedication in Arlington. There were pumpkin farms in the Fall, family reunions and weddings in Hawai’i, good times in Cape Cod, on and on.


Dad and Mom at the Women’s Memorial Dedication, Arlington, VA (1997)


And some of the photos I’ve had of these events Dad has yet to see. So I spent days and days digging in boxes, culling the best pictures and scanning for hours like a crazy person.

I first tried to make my photobook on Shutterfly. They had good templates and customizing options, but I found the software a little frustrating, so I switched to Mixbook. So much easier! It took me another couple of days to upload and lay everything out. Mixbook promised the finished book in two weeks, but it arrived on my doorstep in four days!!


Dad and me in Hawai’i (1987)


To be honest, I had lowered my expectations somewhat because I was using low resolution scanned photos, some from decades ago. No sharp and crisp digital photos. Some of the photos were taken on an Instamatic camera (remember those?)! BUT. The overall quality of the book was better than I expected (lay-flat pages are the way to go). Hope he likes it!


Concord, MA (1995)


As I said, the giver sometimes receives more in return. The days spent working on this project sparked many forgotten memories. Our times together were indeed special because sometimes we did not see each other in person for years. It was good remembering Mom and me stringing popcorn and cranberry garlands for the tree, the family touring the USS Missouri Memorial at Pearl Harbor, visiting the Mayflower and the Old North Church, and staying at the Colonial Inn in Concord (which is haunted).

As I read on FB today, “Looking back helps us remember what matters most,” and I’m grateful for the unexpected gift this project gave me.




Every year I like to browse through Susan Branch’s Christmas from the Heart of the Home (Little, Brown, 1990). If you’re a fellow Susan fan, you know all her books are beautifully done, chock full of gorgeous hand lettering, watercolors, quotes, tips, and delicious, doable recipes that are consistently good.

Do you have a go-to recipe for Christmas morning? We usually make Cranberry Muffins, but I thought I’d try Susan’s Christmas Coffee Cake this year. It calls for fresh cranberries, chopped apples, and walnuts. Simple to make and so very moist.

I imagine you could make the batter the night before and then just bake it up first thing Christmas morning. Your kitchen will smell so good — there’s nothing like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg to get you into the festive spirit. A piece of this homemade cake warm from the oven with your favorite hot beverage is a lovely way to greet this special day.

Only one teensy problem: this cake has a way of disappearing too quickly. 🙂



Susan Branch's Christmas Coffee Cake

  • Servings: nine
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 cups cored, peeled, chopped apple
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cranberries
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • powdered sugar for dusting


Preheat oven to 350°F. Sift together flour, soda and salt — set aside. Combine all remaining ingredients and mix well. Stir in flour mixture. Spread in a buttered 8-inch square baking pan. Bake 40-45 minutes, until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Let sit 10 minutes, cut into squares, sift over powdered sugar, and serve.

~ from Christmas from the Heart of the Home by Susan Branch (Little, Brown, 1990), as posted at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.





Another December, another Christmas, another year.

I don’t know exactly when or how it happened, but for many people the holidays have become a time of stress rather than joy. Back in 2009, I wrote about the pressure of trying to do it all and how I try to find meaning in the holiday:

I’ve realized that Christmas will come, whether all these things get done or not. It will come to households with fewer gifts under the tree, to people who’ve lost loved ones during the year, to those who can’t be with their families or friends, to soldiers far from home, to the elderly in nursing homes, to the homeless shivering in the cold, to those who are happy and content as well as to those who are sad, displaced, or unemployed.

It all comes to fore at Christmas — what you miss, what you regret, what you should have or could have done, memories of childhood holidays, high expectations of picture perfect celebrations, longstanding feuds, family tension, the inevitable retrospective of personal and professional achievements/failures, the all-encompassing pressure “to be happy,” and a feverish desire to acknowledge anyone or everyone who has ever made the least bit of difference in your life.

Every year, it’s a small, quiet moment that “makes” Christmas for me. Usually, it’s not about a gift received or a cheery long distance phone call. It comes after all the necessary “tasks” are done, and I can reflect on what the day really means.

Love came down at Christmas. The world witnessed a miracle. It’s wondrous and mysterious and often too profound for mere mortals to fully comprehend. Even though I may not like all the materialism that characterizes this holiday, I like that for at least one day of the year, billions of people all over the world are united in observance and celebration. Questions of faith will arise, a search for hope. These are good things. Soul searching, going deep, is good and necessary. No matter our age, we desperately want to believe, to keep believing.

So I wish for you a small quiet moment of reckoning amid the hustle and bustle. Christmas doesn’t have to be a big production number, an impossible competition. Do what you can and feel like doing. It is enough. Remember the inestimable worth of one tin cup, a single penny.

During this tumultuous year, I know we’ve held hope in our hearts that truth, love, and justice will prevail.

And it will. So continue to BELIEVE.

 Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year, Friends! 

We hope you hear the jingling of bells and happy carols being sung. May you devour dozens of cookies and sip many cups of tea while reading your favorite holiday stories by a cozy fire. We hope your Christmas dreams come true. See you in 2019!


Jama, the dapper Mr Cornelius, Le Lapin Rotund, 70-something Paddingtons and all the Alphabet Soup kitchen helpers and bit players


P.S. If you see Colin, please tell him I’m still looking for a Quadrille partner. 🙂

Fear not, Mince Pies and JUSTICE will be served!



The lovely and talented Laura Shovan is hosting today’s Roundup. Put on your jingle bells and elf shoes and dance on over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere. Don’t forget to fa la la!


This post is also being linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your best aprons and bibs, and come join the fun!




Certified authentic alphabetica. Made by hand just for you with love, hope, and unabashed merriment.

Copyright © 2018 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

70 thoughts on “ABCs of Christmas, a yummy recipe, and a holiday blog break

  1. Thank you for this lovely blog chock full of book suggestions, recipes and above all love. I want to wish you a blessed Christmas and a happy and healthy 2019! I hope dad loves all the pictures. Joanne xoxo. P.S. I wanted to mention that one of my favorite Christmas stories is An Orange for Frankie by Patricia Polacco!


    1. I haven’t read An Orange for Frankie — will check to see if my library has it (thanks for the suggestion). Wish you a very happy holiday, Joanne, and all the best in 2019. Appreciate your reading and commenting this past year. 🙂


  2. I love your post from top to bottom, Jama! I saved the Christmas Coffee Cake recipe — must give it a try! Your RBG looks like she means business. Mince pies and justice, woot!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It is wonderful to have created a Christmas book of memories for your dad, Jama. I’ve made several and cherish them for our own times together. I just shared “The Christmas Eve Tree” this week. What a beautiful new book for this time of year. Like you, I love “A Christmas Memory”, adored when it was made for tv too with Geraldine Page. Happiest of Christmases to you, Len & all the bears! Thank you for this warm and loving post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This was my first photobook — there was a learning curve, but now I think it’ll go faster with future ones. 🙂 The Christmas Eve Tree is lovely — finally got a copy after heairng about it last year. I love Emily Sutton’s art so couldn’t resist. We always watch the Geraldine Page video of “A Christmas Memory” every year. Have a truly wonderful and delicious Christmas, Linda. I’m sure you’ll be making fabulous new memories with your grandgirls. 🙂


  4. So much love to you, dear Jama, the dapper Mr Cornelius, Le Lapin Rotund, 70-something Paddingtons and all the Alphabet Soup kitchen helpers and bit players! Love this cheery, warm post, and what a great idea to make the coffee cake batter the day before! The pictures of your parents touch me… thanks for sharing them and your project. xo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Irene. When doing muffins for Christmas morning, I always made the batter the night before too. Since I’m not a morning person, this makes things much easier. 🙂 Have a great holiday!


  5. Oh my gosh, Jama! Your post reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to tell you. There is a new chocolatier out of Maryland making literary-themed chocolate bars. They have a new pair of “A Christmas Carol” bars — one dark and one white! Here the link to Open Book Chocolate. Enjoy your holidays!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading — so glad you enjoyed my ruminations, Margo. Will you be adding an island touch to your holiday celebration this year? 🙂 Enjoy and Mele Kalikimaka to you too!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Of course, Jama! We always have our Hawaii ornaments on the tree, little gifts from our island friends that warm our hearts. My favorite is a little Hawaiian quilted square that reads “Hawaii is where the heart is”! We will have sashimi also—but, sadly, no spam musubi! Mele Kalikimaka, Jama!


  6. Wishing you a happy Christmas, Jama! What a wonderful present you’ve made for your dad (and for yourself!) And what a wonderful present you (and Mr. C.) make for your readers with each and every blog post.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What a beautiful gift to a parent! Your Dad will be so pleased — and it’s even more fun, because some of the pictures only YOU had. Thanks for sharing how you did it, too — I absolutely HATE getting into apps and programs that are too hard for the average person’s intelligence!

    I’m one of those who has gotten in over her head — again — with the running around, but I hear you, Christmas is ACCOMPLISHED, whether we feel we celebrate it “right” or not. So, slowing down promptly, ma’am. I promise.

    You are loved. Happy Christmas, Jama-j. ♥

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Don’t drive yourself crazy — hope you do get a chance to slow down and enjoy the holiday season. The Mixbook app was definitely easier than the Shutterfly one, which wasn’t necessarily “hard,” but more time consuming for a first-time user — I was rushed to finish so didn’t have the extra time to learn.


  8. Jama, what a delightful and delicious post. I most certainly do remember instamatic cameras! Oh, those flashbulbs. lol. And, I’m sure the gift for your Dad will be equally loved by him. The time together making memories is precious. You are a fortunate daughter. I appreciate your thoughts on the quiet moment of Christmas. I look for those too. The “tasks” are fun but I love the feeling of knowing its all done and all that’s left is to enjoy. Merry Christmas.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, once the gifts are purchased, wrapped, and shipped, all the cards written, the baking and decorating done, etc., one can then begin to truly sit back and enjoy. I’ve cut way back on the cookie baking in recent years and only take out a few decorations, rotating them each year. Have a lovely Christmas, Linda!


  9. Have a Merry Christmas, Jama! What a wonderful gift for your father. I just made a photo calendar for my 94 yr old grandma. I love your red dishes!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Tina! Years ago, we made a calendar for a family reunion — a cherished keepsake to this day since each month featured one of my mother’s siblings’ families (she was one of 12). I’m sure your grandma will love her calendar too.

      The red dishes are Red Calico pattern by Burleigh (England). I try to add a piece or two a year to my collection. 🙂

      Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family!


  10. I love, I love, I love your blog. You offer so much beauty and love and happiness and thoughtfulness. I can’t thank you enough. Your dad! What a wonder! As a girl whose parents were both gone by the time I was 25, I can’t imagine what it must be like for you. Anyhow, thank you for being such a happy place to visit on the internet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you thank you thank you, Nan!! Your words are music to my ears and I so appreciate your enthusiasm and support.

      I can’t imagine what it’s been like for you, having lost both parents at such a young age — sorry to hear that. I’ve been truly blessed to have Dad around this long (and my Mom lived a good long life too, having passed away at age 89 four years ago).

      Wishing you and your family a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Love seeing your grandkids at your blog. 🙂


  11. I’d like to be a fly on the wall when you do your photo shoots. I just have to believe you have as much fun setting them up as we do viewing them in your posts!

    You’ve got all the Christmas feels in this post — the colors, the decorations, the food, the LOVE. We go for a more pagan approach: the tree with lights and ornaments that represent a lifetime of memories we revisit when we put them up and take them back down, a solstice gathering with friends (we’ve branched out from Hopi stew to Alsatian and Flemish stews, and the Kachinas no longer bring gifts since we all have enough STUFF), and a tradition of cinnamon rolls from scratch on Christmas morning when we open gifts of sweaters and books.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Love your solstice celebration with those delicious stews, and of course homemade cinnamon rolls sound sooooooo good (I can just about smell them!). I also enjoy reviewing a kind of family/friend history as I go through our ornaments. Wish I had been as conscientious as my friend (former librarian), who writes names and dates on stickers on the back of each ornament in her collection. Great archiving for future generations. 🙂 Happy Christmas to you and yours!


  12. I loved reading about and seeing your Christmas memories! And I too make a Christmas cranberry coffee cake that disappears so fast my husband has reason to doubt it ever existed! (I try to save him at least one piece!) Well as I am sure you know everyone HATES when you go on break, but you richly deserve it! Happy Holidays!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good to know you’ll be enjoying a cranberry coffee cake too. Let’s do a virtual toast of our coffee/tea cups on Christmas morning as we munch on a piece. 🙂

      The older I get, the more (and longer) breaks I seem to need. I guess after 11 years of blogging, I need this time away to fill the well and catch up on my reading (plus I’m a slow writer).

      Happy Holidays, Jill!! I continue to enjoy Rhapsody in Books (thanks for all your good posts)!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I get the next dance with Mr Firth! What a lovely picture book for your dad. 104. Wow. You and I have many of the same books for the holidays. I bring them out each year. I have a little board book on Hanukkah, too, just enough information to remember what it’s all about. December is a month-long celebration for us. That abecedarian is adorable and clever. Still relevant. Have a wonderful break, Jama. I hope your heart is full and happy. And your stomach, too. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Okay, you can dance with Mr Firth, only if you promise not to flirt with him. 😀 I fear your friendly fairy tale wiles may lure him away from me.

      My stomach is definitely full and happy. My expanding waistline will attest to that too. I am counting my blessings and trying to stay positive. I feel optimistic about 2019 even as it looks like more rough times ahead for our country. The orange empire is slowly crumbling . . .


  14. I’m sorry, but I’m expecting Mr. Firth at *my* house this year … I guess he could spend Boxing Day with you. 🙂

    What a lovely gift for your father, and I’m so glad you found an easy way to put together such a precious book. Now I think I’ll pour some tea and taste some of Susan Branch’s cake. Enjoy the break and happy holidays!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. That’s a beautiful blog post. I love your collection of memories of children’s Christmas stories, your recipes, and your photos of toy figures inspecting the cookies! Your photo book sounds delightful too.

    Happy holidays! best… mae at

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Mae. Cookies and other treats disappear around here at record pace. It is challenging to get the bit players to stay still long enough for a picture. 🙂 Happy Holidays to you and yours!


  16. You put together a lovely memory book Jama, and I am determined to make that delicious coffee cake for Christmas morning. For me, Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus, my Savior. Anything else is superfluous. Home made presents are the best and shopping malls to be avoided in my plan of action. The little downtown Hilo shops for extras. Happy Christmas to you and your family!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hear you on avoiding the malls at all costs, and prefer to shop at small shops; good to support small businesses whenever possible. Yes, it’s Jesus’s birthday — many seem to forget that’s the whole point while in a commercialistic fever. Let me know how you like the coffee cake.


  17. Thanks for this delightful post Jama! Love your focus on the simple and more spiritual, food and handmade gifts. Your photo album is a treasure hope it brings some joy to your father, and oh my what an accomplishment 104! Wishing you and your family and all the bears the happiest of Holidays, and Cheer with the New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Hello, Jama!

    Oh how wonderful it all is! You have reminded me that once upon a time I aspired to collect alphabet books–and do indeed have quite a collection. But I”m not sure I get enough use from them to justify continuing to accumulate them. Indeed, I’m trying to decumulate the stuff around here…which is why I hauled out of the garage a large portfolio of my daughter’s makings ages 0-6 and am culling the “why did I save this?” from the “ooh remember this?!” I’ll package the latter up as a Yuletide gift for her (photographing the most memory-inducing as I go) and then let her recycle whatever SHE doesn’t need to save. Your gift for your father which is also a gift for you may come to outshine 70-plus Paddingtons or even a quadrille with Mr. Firth….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s never easy to decide what to keep and what to toss — especially things with sentimental value. Your daughter will be delighted with your gift. Looking back is fun, often poignant. I try very hard to decumulate but the opposite keeps happening. . . 🙂 Have a good holiday with your family!


  19. I think my grandmother had the Christmas Alphabet book. I remember the red and black pictures and wondering what a Quadrille was! Thanks for that memory.

    Your memory photo book sounds perfect for your father at this time — and for you. What a wonderful way to observe Christmas!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow — what a cool coincidence that your grandmother had that particular ABC book . . . and that you still remember the pictures!


  20. What a lovely post. My favorite photo is the one of you and your father in 1987 in Hawaii. I love it.
    The recipe is wonderful also, a great Christmas and celebratory cake.

    The book will be a hit. When my granddaughter was born I kept photos of her on the computer, made folders by the month. For her first birthday I had a memory book made with photos starting with her birth and ending with her birthday month. It was a great hit. I also included photos of the grandparents holding her or playing. Your father will love his memory book.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Thanks for this post, Jama. It’s a bright spot in my holidays even though I read it after Christmas. I loved the Christmas alphabet! Charming!
    I’m sure your Dad loved the photo book. I made one for my son…from birth to his mid-twenties. I used Mixbook, too, and it was easier than others I’d used in the past. I have a copy of the book and it is real treasure.
    Hope your holidays were happy!


  22. Wonderful post. I love reading posts like this. This always warms my heart up. Great idea on that photo book too. I may do one of those for my aunt, her birthday is coming up soon. You and your family have a great New Year.


  23. All these warm wishes are still brightly shining into 2019! The proprietor of a great little shop downtown here was heading to Ireland to visit her family for the holidays; her dad just turned 103, and I thought of your father when she mentioned her plans. (Great photo labor-of-love you made! I would also recommend the company I just used to make Scotland/Ireland trip albums that we gave to the kids for Christmas – Artifact Uprising. Quality is beautiful. A friend whose daughter is in graphic design suggested them!)


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