When it comes to Christmas, I am big on tradition. Really, when it comes to any holiday. There were beloved holiday experiences that repeated themselves every year when I was growing up–like gingerbread house parties, for example–and now, as a parent, I am strongly committed to instituting and observing traditions for my own family. They certainly don’t have to be the same traditions that I grew up with (I mean, dressing up like clowns for Easter is kind of weird, right?) as long as they are wholesome and relatively easily repeatable.
You may think, “Sure, traditions are fun, but they’re not that big a deal.” I believe, though, that they are a big deal because of two things they create: family unity and family identity. As for unity, when we all enjoy the same activities together year after year, it can only bring us closer to each other. As for identity, having a sense of family personality is crucial. In a world where the family gets less and less respect, we have to try that much harder to instill in our children the conviction that family is fun, positive, and–perhaps most relevant to observing traditions–unique. As my kids go out into the world, I want them to know what it means to be a Garone. I hope they come to believe it means being creative, hospitable, and community-oriented (and also appreciating Dr. Doofenschmirtz from Phineas and Ferb as the most underrated cartoon villain of all time). And when my kids grow up, I want them to recall lovingly the great times we had together and ultimately pay that forward to their own families.
This peppermint hot chocolate has become one of our Christmastime traditions, sipped alongside watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Something about these two activities in conjunction has worked its way into the fabric of our family lore. It’s been years since I switched from packaged mix to homemade hot chocolate, and somewhere along the line started adding peppermint extract to it to give it a special holiday flair. My daughter, middle son, and I think it’s spectacular. Creamy, richly chocolatey, and of course, perfectly pepperminty. The other two members of our household prefer the original version. Now we live in a House Divided: the Peppermints and the Originals. (Maybe one Christmas we should get team jackets with our preferences written on them, a la the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies from Grease.)
How’s that for family identity?
So whatever your family traditions at Christmastime, may I suggest making this delightful hot drink one of them? I hope it adds to your family’s sense of unity and identity. Grinch viewing optional.
Peppermint Hot Chocolate
In a small saucepan, combine the cocoa powder, sugar, and pinch of salt. Stir in hot water.
Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Simmer and stir for 2 minutes.
Stir in milk and heat until very hot, but not boiling. Remove from heat and add vanilla and peppermint extract.
Distribute evenly into 4 mugs and stir 1 Tbsp. half and half into each. Top with whipped cream, if desired.