Hello, fellow Northlanders! This is my last column of 2020. For me, and I imagine all of us, it has been a year like no other. We could not have imagined it — outside a science-fiction novel. Yet here we are. I wish you all happy holidays, but since Christmas is two days away, I’m going share some thoughts on Christmas.

As a brewer, each year I and most of my peers brew batches of beer just for the holidays. All of us look forward to this time of year in doing our little part to spread cheer. Holiday beers run the gamut of flavors. Check them out if possible.

But this year, from my perspective, everything means more, from the lights on folks’ houses to the greetings we make when we’re masked up and run into each other. So I'm writing about more than beer today.

The downsides of the past nine months are well known and, in many cases, heartbreaking. Like all of you, I deal with them every day. But, let’s look at the positives (since it’s Christmas and all). Some sunshine does get through. I am amazed at the endurance of all the people trying to stay positive, staying outside and enjoying our winter climate — as we northerners are very good at — and also, especially, supporting small, local businesses while we weather the pandemic. I speak for many when I offer a thank-you to you all.

I have a few rules I've adapted during the months of lockdown.

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  • Stay active, get outside as much as possible.
  • Eat well, cook as much as possible. Simple is good; grilling is good — and drinking good beer, of course.
  • Temper expectations as much as you can, always trying to find the positive and be consistent in supporting your mental health.
  • Sleep a lot and dream interesting stuff. I find that thinking good thoughts in bed seems to help.
  • Pandemic fatigue affects us all in different ways. Reaching out to friends and family in your pod, virtually or by phone, is so important.

This brings me back to Christmas. My neighborhood has never been so lit up and delightful. Over the past months, I’ve been able to get to know most of the folks in my area far better.

I’m a true believer in the spirit of Christmas, and with one of the worst years in our history in the rear-view mirror, let’s take the readily available time to enjoy family get-togethers in whatever safe form we can. Let’s take walks and Zoom with old friends. I did a virtual beer tasting last week with a bunch of my classmates from high school (Glencoe Eagles class of 1985). Pretty sweet! Times are tough, but positive mental energy and finding the fun is the ticket as much as possible.

Continuing on with the positives, there are a few thoughts I wanted to share about the good things that have happened over the past year.

  • Family time at a new, all-time high
  • Nightly dinners
  • Game nights

My work family has grown closer, too, and helped each other in many ways to get by day-to-day. Recently, we had a Zoom get-together to generate a Christmas card, and it was great.

2020 has been so tough, and I can’t wait to write a holly jolly holiday article next year. In the meantime, be well, be thoughtful, be neighborly as much as you can. Most of all, enjoy your Christmas, as it's very much a state of mind.

Since we are at home all the time, I mostly listen to Christmas music right now, and I am very lucky that my kids also love it. Sometimes we watch holiday movies; here's my Top 5 list in no order (truly, as I may take deserved flak here):

I also have a pretty spectacular homemade popcorn recipe; please weigh in with your favorite holiday movies and email me if you try the recipe.

Popcorn

Use a good quality corn. (I use Black Jewell natural grain popcorn.)

Step 1: Put a few tablespoons of coconut oil in a large Dutch oven or pot. Heat on a stovetop at high temperature and let the oil dissolve.

Step 2: Add 3-5 kernels of popcorn to the pan. Allow them to pop.

Step 3: Add 1 to 1½ cups of corn. Cover and shake often as the kernels pop. This method cooks pretty much all the corn, leaving almost no uncooked corn.

Step 4: Melt butter. (How much is up to your taste.) Add the butter to finished corn while in the pot. Add salt to taste, cover, and shake like mad.

Step 5: Serve it up. This recipe yields two good-size serving bowls.

I wish you each the nicest holiday and wellness and happiness in the next year.

Dave Hoops lives and works in Duluth and is a veteran brewer and beer judge. Contact him at dave@hoopsbrewing.com.