My mother was the keeper of traditions for all the holidays, none more so than Christmas. She had special towels, linens, table cloths, candles, serving dishes, and crockery all with special Christmas themes that she had collected over the years. The cookies, candies, fruit cakes, breads and stuffed dates were just a small part of the Holiday food tradition that she kept up. My mother was always quite modest about her efforts, although thinking back on it now she put on quite the spread!
My grandmother handed down the traditions that my mother lovingly kept alive. When I was young, we would trade-off Thanksgiving and Christmas between our house and my grandmother’s house. Regardless of location, pre-meal delictables included black olives, gherkins, a cheese tray and nuts. As a child, I remember enjoying putting the black olives on my fingers, the saltiness of the cashews, and the sweet crunch of the gherkins. Lord knows, I ate too many olives and cashews!
The main meal for Christmas was either turkey or ham. Sides included stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and Brussels sprouts. There was always jellied cranberry for color and sweetness. There would be hot rolls and butter curls, an added holiday twist. Sprigs of parsley complimented the cranberries on the serving platters, but nobody seriously considered eating the parsley. Amazingly, there was room (or maybe stamina) for dessert and coffee after all that. As a child I did not partake in the coffee, but enjoyed the cookies, fudge, and stuffed dates.
The focal point of the season was the Christmas tree. I would go with my father to a local lot, assist in choosing the “perfect tree”, then help him tie it to the roof of the car and bring it home. The tree would rest on the front porch for several days before we would bring it inside. As it warmed up, the smell would fill the whole house with Christmas.
Of course there were the decorations that needed to be unearthed. I always loved this part of Christmas. Unwrapping the ornaments, untangling the lights, the artistic decision making of where to put which ornament so that the cat wouldn’t knock it down or a favorite would be lit just right. Then putting all the boxes away, finally relaxing and admiring that year’s creation over hot chocolate and cookies.
I didn’t grow up in a house that had a fireplace, so I faced a double dilemma of where to hang my stocking and how to entice Santa to come into the living room without adequate access through our heating system. Somehow, my childish concerns were allayed, and I could relax and wait for Christmas Eve. Santa Claus came to my house on Christmas Eve. I did not realize this was a German tradition for many years, but came to appreciate it, since I had little patience waiting for Christmas morning.
In order for Santa to be able to put presents under the tree, we had to put a sheet up between the living and dining room. Otherwise, he would have been too distracted by the wonderful meal we were eating and couldn’t have delivered the rest of the toys to all the good boys and girls, at least that is what my parents told me. He would let us know that he was done by putting a record on the record player. This was a tradition originated in my mother’s youth. Santa would put a record by Madame Schumann-Heinke singing “Stille Nacht”. In my day, it was Spike Jones!
By the time I got to the curtain, Santa was long gone. I remember one year racing outside to see if I could catch him. To this day I don’t know how my father did it, but what I found that cold December 24th, has remained one of the highlights of my childhood. I stood on our porch and looked at the snow on the steps and sidewalk below, and swore I saw reindeer hoof prints!
That was many years ago. Today I celebrate the spirit of Christmas, but I am less attached to keeping the traditions. Up until three years ago, I would purchase a cut tree and decorate it. Then I bought a “fake” tree that is eco-friendly, and doesn’t pose a fire risk or drop needles. This tree folds up easily and gets tucked away in its box in my garage. I still enjoy taking out the boxes of ornaments and putting them up. They trigger many happy memories and bring some tears to my eyes as I remember loved ones who are no longer with me.
As for the food, well, the days of turkey with all the fixings, black olives, cashews, and gherkins are long gone. I do my best to eat small portions of the cookies and candy, and try and get my exercise in as I watch my carb intake. I did have a momentary fantasy of a rib roast or a ham, but realized that both of those are way too rich for me.
I still send Christmas cards and very much enjoy receiving them, reading the notes, and displaying them around my home. I admire electronic cards, especially those by Jacquie Lawson, but have a teensy bit of judgment reserved for those who send them to me, as I would much rather have a card in hand.
If the weather holds, this year Christmas Eve will be clear and cold and the moon will just be waning. I might be lucky enough when looking to the sky to see Santa and his sleigh and the eight tiny reindeer as they make their way spreading cheer and joy around the world. I will be listening to Christmas music, but won’t rush out to catch Santa.
Please accept today’s blog as my Christmas present to you. I wish you joy, happiness, contentment, and satisfaction. May these gifts last throughout the year, and may they bless you and your family always.