For my sister and I, Christmas and New Year’s, were pretty close to being the best time of the year when we were growing up. Much of how we celebrated was similar to how people celebrate in the U.S. We had a tree (always a fake one; nobody had a real tree) that we decorated with ornaments. But our favorite part was always hanging the dangling, silver tinsel. Or more like throwing it on the tree, in an attempt to make it look “natural,” with the result always resembling clumps of shiny hair stuck on the plastic green branches. We had a nativity scene that we put under the tree, surrounded always by cotton balls, to simulate snow, because we all know how much snow falls in the winter in Bethlehem.
And then there were the gifts. Our tradition for those deviated slightly from the American version. Santa Claus (the same one, with the white beard and red uniform) didn’t come on Christmas eve but on New Year’s eve. On that night, we’d always be at a party of some friends of my parents and right at midnight, at the end of the countdown, an adult who had sneaked away secretly, would pull down the main circuit board so that all the lights in the house would go out. As soon as the year turned, he or she would turn them back on. The reason, we were told in all seriousness by our parents, was so that Santa could come in without being seen. Never mind that the presents never showed up under the tree until the next day. So I would keep my eyes wide open, trying to catch a glimpse of this elusive, jolly gift-bearer. But alas, the dark would always hide him well.
So, the next day, the first day of the new year, my sister and I would wake up and jump out of bed. We knew the routine. Behind our headboards there was one wrapped gift for each of us. This was the gift from our parents. We’d open it and then run to the Christmas tree, where right next to the snowy nativity scene there were two more wrapped gifts, one for each of us. These were from Santa. Minutes later, we’d be sitting at the table, sipping the hot cocoa my mom made for us, talking excitedly about what we got. “How did Santa come into our house if we don’t have a chimney?” I asked my dad one year. My dad must have panicked, because his immediate answer was “he comes through the keyhole.” It was a statement that puzzled my young brain for years, until I learned the truth about Santa.
Malted Hot Chocolate Mix – Slightly adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
Note: This makes a thick, rich, and dark hot chocolate. It’s not very sweet at all. If you want it sweeter, you can add sugar to each mug to taste.
1 cup (7 oz) sugar
6 oz unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup (3 oz) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup (1.5 oz) malted milk powder (substitute nonfat dry milk for a non-malted version)
5 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Process all ingredients in a food processor until ground to powder, 30 to 60 seconds. Transfer to airtight container and store at room temperature for up to 2 months (longer in the freezer).
To make a cup of malted hot chocolate, heat 1 cup of milk in a small saucepan over medium heat just until small bubbles start to appear at the edge of the saucepan. Add 1/4 cup of the hot chocolate mix and continue to heat, whisking constantly, for about 2-3 minutes longer, until the mixture just starts to simmer. Pour in a mug and serve.