Out-of-the Box Holidays
Making New Traditions Old
Wendy Probert hosts a Holiday Hootenanny for her friends to share music, food, and drinks, and to out-plaid each another.
While decking the halls and having some eggnog together sounds fun, some of our neighbors take celebrating the holidays to new levels. We found some local traditions that just might inspire you to change up your seasonal routines.
At Jen and Josh Shelov’s house in the Stratfield section of town, there is a set list taped to a wall. Neighbors arrive and anxiously check their position on the list. Folding chairs are set up in two rows, facing a drum set, a piano, and two microphones.
This isn’t your run-of-the-mill Hanukkah/Christmas celebration. It’s The Shelovian Holiday Salon. According to Josh Shelov, the event started simply because “a good friend, Michael Fass, would cap off our dinners together with an impromptu concert on the acoustic guitar.” Shelov loved these get-togethers so much that he took up the guitar himself “at the ripe age of 44,” and just started adding more and more friends to the mix.
At the Salon, the only requirement is every family must perform. “The Salon is an excuse for everyone to get on stage,” explains Shelov. “The grownups badger the kids, but it’s the grownups who feel the excitement. It wouldn’t be nearly as fun without the mandatory aspect of the performance.” That can sound pretty intimidating to those with stage fright, but the Shelovs know how to get a crowd comfortable, starting with good food and a cocktail hour warm up.
Last year, Charlie Simon, a Warde High School sophomore, was chosen as the inaugural emcee of the event. He introduced some solos, a few duets, and the backup performers who mimed their parts instead of singing. A kazoo was used in a trio for added effect. And plenty of families took their turns at the microphones singing words from folded sheets of paper that held their favorite tunes, holiday or otherwise.
The Salon is evolving into what Shelov had hoped it would become: an eclectic cacophony of sounds that sometimes feels like Karaoke, and sometimes like an episode of “The Voice.” But mostly it feels like the warmest, most genuinely friendly group of neighbors, coming together to celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, and each other. “Music turns an enjoyable night of food and drink and friendship into something profound.”
A Holiday Hootenanny
“Mad for Plaid” is the theme of Wendy Probert’s post-Holiday Hootennany event. She explains that The Hootenanny is a tradition that she learned from friends, and hosts it in January “after New Year’s, when everybody is ready for a party.” The name Hootenanny actually stems from an old country word for “party” in the 1930s. Probert’s version involves friends, a steel drum, a clarinet, some plastic spoons, “at least one or two guitar players who can lead us,” and anything else anyone wants to add. The guests bring a snack and a drink to share, and assemble in the living room. The guitars start, and everyone just joins in. “Sometimes we sound really great, and sometimes we don’t,” she jokes.
Why Plaid? “I love plaid and I felt like we needed a theme,” Probert says. “Last year, it inspired one guest to dress like a lumberjack.”
Thirty Years and Thousands of Cookies
Cookie Swaps are common these days, but this one has had the staying power of 30 years, and originates back to Jennifer Smith’s mother when she was at Wellesley College. This tight knit Fairfield/Southport group started meeting when their children were small, gathering for company and tea while the kids played. Because the holidays with kids were much more hectic, Smith and her good friend, Abby Dodge, decided to start their own cookie exchange within the same playgroup. Now, decades later, after the kids are grown and out of the house, the group—approximately 11 in all—still meets each December, rotating houses to share their baking creations. The entry fee is one dozen cookies.
Click the link for one of Dodge’s signature cookie recipes: Bittersweet Chocolate Peppermint Thumbprints.
COOKIE GURU As a well-known author and baker, Abby Dodge has written ten cookbooks and her site abbydodge.com is chock full of great ideas for holiday baking and gifts. Photo credit: The Everyday Baker by Abigail Johnson Dodge. Click here to purchase.