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  • Writer's picturePaula Wesselmann

Christmas Memories

I love Christmas both as a sacred religious holiday and a worldwide cultural and

commercial phenomenon. When growing up, I lived in a place called Winterhaven in Tucson, Arizona. The community was easily recognized with wide streets lined with large evergreen pine trees, green lawns, hedges, and flowers - not your typical desert landscape. After Jim and I married, we were lucky to find a red-brick ranch-style home in the same community I enjoyed since the 5 th grade. Christmas time in Winterhaven was magical for both adults and children. The pine trees were decorated with twinkling lights, and the homes were lit up with imaginative and beautiful lawn displays. For two weeks, the visiting cars were bumper to bumper. While my boys were growing up, Winterhaven changed the traffic build-up to mostly walking nights. As the residents prepared for the festival, the air was filled with holiday excitement and comradery.

Once the stockings were hung, and our Christmas tree was decorated with treasures from

the past and present, I began baking my favorite childhood cookies. Rossette cookies were

magical and looked like a snowflake once sprinkled with powdered sugar. They are thin, cookie-like fritters made with iron molds, found in many countries but originating in Norway and Sweden. Another favorite was from a Greek family, Koulourakia cookies. Their twisted shape sprinkled with sesame seeds was a delight with hot cider, cocoa, or coffee. The baking went on for days because of the Christmas carolers that would arrive during the festival. My two sons, Nicholas and Paul, could hardly wait for the first night of Winterhaven’s Festival of Lights when they were given a free hayride. I delighted in the evening sounds of horse hoofs hitting the street, the squeaking wheels of old fashion carriage rides, bagpipes, singing, laughter, and young tricksters up to harmless mischief.

In the middle of Winterhaven was a small island with a huge pine tree that stretched to

the sky. As a child, I would climb to the top on its wide-spread branches and dream of what the future had in store for me. On the first night of Winterhaven’s Festival of Lights, Santa would arrive to the island in an air balloon, a fire truck, or some other special way where he would greet us with a “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!” Caroling would follow with hot cocoa stands close by to warm us from desert cold. The annual Winterhaven Festival of Lights dates back to 1949. C.B. Richards created the festival after visiting a similar display in Beverly Hills in the 1930s. He purchased the first set of Christmas lights in 1949 and donated them to the few houses that were the beginning of Winterhaven. C.B. Richards purchased the Allepo pine trees from Guy Monthan & nursery that was going out of business. He planted the trees by the street of each house at regular intervals and made sure there were electrical connections for the different colored lights. During the holiday season, cars flooded the small community, and a tradition began as each new house added to the festivities. Today, the annual display attracts about 60,000 visitors and is a collection point for the Community Food Bank, which collects thousands of pounds of food each

year. I wish you all a Happy Holiday and a New Year filled with many blessings. Enjoy the

Koulourakia Cookie Recipe when the wind blows, and the chill of winter puts you in a baking mood.

Koulourakia Cookies


1 cup of butter

½ cup of sugar

2 eggs (reserve one yolk for glaze)

3 cups of sifted flour

1 tsp. of baking powder

1 tablespoon of lemon or orange juice

TOPPING: 1 egg yolk and 2 tablespoons of water. Brush on to cookie and sprinkle with

sesame seeds.

Cream the butter with an eggbeater. Gradually add sugar and cream together. Add eggs

and beat well. Stir in sifted dry ingredients ad blend in flavoring. Knead well until the

dough is smooth. Pinch off pieces of equal size, roll on board lightly by hand to the

desired length, and shape into twists.

Bake at 350º (ºF) for 15 minutes, lightly brown.

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