MAYFIELD—Stephanie Willden says she considers her family’s Christmas traditions to be “pretty basic,” but in the best way.
The family of seven consists of Stephanie, her husband Garrick, and children Naomi, 18; Josie and Jon, both 16; Lilly, 13; and Gavin, 11.
The Willdens follows a routine that takes them to Salt Lake City on Christmas Eve, where they see city Christmas lights and get together with Stephanie’s mother, grandmother and extended family.
They return to Mayfield to spend Christmas Day at their home at the foot of the mountains. “It’s all about spending time with family,” said Garrick, a lifelong Mayfield resident.
On or close to the big day, they see Garrick’s brother, G.J., and his family, as well as Garrick’s parents Suzette Bown and Doug Willden. Both of the two families also live in Mayfield.
Yes, the season is mainly about family. But considering the reputation of Garrick’s holiday wassail, the season is about a little more than immediate family, Stephanie says.
“Anytime we go anywhere, he gets asked to make the wassail.”
The Willden children say wassail and the holidays go hand-in-hand. Even the early November snow this year prompted them to ask for it, their mother says.
The cidery hot beverage represents more than its cinnamon taste and the warmth people feel as they drink it fresh after brewing. It is a recipe that Garrick’s maternal grandmother, Barbara Bown, passed down to him, G.J., and his younger sister Felicia.
Stephanie’s and Garrick’s family traditions actually begin well before Christmas. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, they participate in the annual Santa Fun Run in Gunnison. After they run, they go into the mountains and cut down a tree.
“My husband gets ginormous trees that never fit anywhere,” Stephanie joked.
The Willdens enjoy going to lots of Christmas parties although some of those may be cancelled this year because of the coronavirus.
On Christmas Eve at Stephanie’s mother’s or grandmother’s house in Salt Lake City, aunts, uncles and cousins read scripture, have a gift exchange and do a nativity scene. And they often go out into the city to eat or see a movie together.
Other than the meal out, food on Christmas Eve is an “all day lunch that never ends,” Stephanie says It is served buffet-style and “thousands of chocolates” made by Stephanie’s mother, Kristine Kimball.
Back in Mayfield for Christmas Day, the Willdens start with the children finding gifts from Santa Claus. Then, they eat a “big breakfast” that typically includes cinnamon rolls and breakfast casserole.
After breakfast, the family opens wrapped gifts.
“So Christmas lasts until around noon at our house,” Stephanie says.
The Willdens spends the rest of the children’s break from school playing new board games they may have received as gifts, sledding and drinking more wassail.
Stephanie says she has a “fun bunch of kids.”
With them, “basic” traditions are all it takes to have a happy holiday.
Barbara Bown’s Wassail Recipe
2 quarts apple juice
1 can (12 fluid ounces) frozen orange juice
Half can (6 fluid ounces) of frozen lime juice
Combine the apple juice, frozen orange juice and frozen lime juice together.
½ quart water
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground allspice
Add sugar to boiling water
Add herbs/spices to boiling mix
Continue to boil for 10-15 minutes
Let mix cool and strain through cheese cloth or fine screen.
Add mix to juice.
Dilute to taste.