Growing up near Nana & Papa, with very few traditions lingering in our own home, December meant a few things I still crave: The Nutcracker + lebkuchen + toy trains (not Thomas please). The first performance of The Nutcracker ballet took place in St. Petersburg, Russia, on December 18, 1892. One of the directors of the Imperial Ballet, which was sponsored by the Czar of Russia, thought that a popular story by a famous German author would make a perfect Christmas ballet. And he was correct! To me, it is perfect for its musical composition (a march, a Chinese dance, an Arabian dance, a Russian dance, etc), for the costumes, for the set design, & for toys coming to life (not to mention beautiful dances). This was my introduction to ballet, & it's soundtrack fills our kitchen from November until January.
Lebkuchen is the sort of gingerbread that is most feasible to make houses from, as in Hansel & Gretel. Uncle George stocked it alongside pfeffernusse (tastes like licorice in a baked good) each December. The heavy dough is perfect for using cookie cutters & glazing or dipping in chocolate, and the cookies improve with age! For those who aren't huge fans of cloves, nutmeg is a perfectly legitimate substitute (which I do for Nic).