Tradition Week (Christmas): All About Eve

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My 4-year-old drew this on my parents’ porch today with chalk she got in a present. Later in the afternoon, I was carrying a load of boxes out to our van and didn’t want my son to get out too, so I asked her to close the door behind me.

Her: I need my chalk!

Me: Close the door, please.

Her: Where’s my chalk?!

Me: The door! Close it now, please!

Her: I need my chalk!

Me: Close the door!

Her: I forgot to draw the tornado!

I’ve been blessed to have Christmas traditions that are roughly compatible with my wife’s family’s traditions, as well as to have parents and in-laws who are willing to be flexible. So my wife’s parents’ annual Christmas Eve fondue dinner was on Christmas Eve Eve this year. And we treated Christmas Eve itself as Christmas day with my family. We’ll spend Christmas Eve night with my parents and my dad’s brother’s family, and Christmas Christmas with my wife’s family.

It sounds busy—and it is—but we’ve more often than not managed to schedule out big blocks of time so we don’t feel like yo-yos spinning rapidly between a couple of houses.

Plus, we have a tradition of going away Christmas night when we can, just my wife and I, to a local bed and breakfast.

Amid it all, we get to see friends and cousins, aunts and uncles, and multiple generations enjoying conversation and fun under one roof.

When my cousins were little, we would go to my uncle’s house for Christmas Eve, and I would tell them elephant jokes on the drive across town back to my house, where we’d read the Christmas story. Now that they’re older and we get together at my parents house, we tend to show each other Youtube videos.

I love seeing my family, which is why I’m cutting off this post here and rejoining the chaos—though it is nice to have an excuse to sequester myself away for a breather. (I’ve found since starting this blog, however, that they also tend to worry that certain stories or anecdotes will find their way onto the Internet. Some will, someday.)

Also, my girls are right now shouting about seeing the Magic Shoe, which is a pink, glittery sneaker that’s been known to peek in windows or skitter across the lawn at my parents’ house from time to time.

Merry Christmas!

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Tradition Week (Christmas): The Food

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In his book Me Talk Pretty One Day, in the essay titled “Jesus Shaves,” Dave Sedaris explores the difficulty in explaining a holiday to someone for whom it has no cultural reference: “Faced with the challenge of explaining the cornerstone of Christianity, we did what any self-respecting group of people might do,” he writes. “We talked about food instead.”

Sedaris was relating an anecdote about parsing Easter for two Moroccan students in a beginners’ French class he was taking, but the sentiment applies here, too.

Many of my Christmas memories involve food—and it’s no wonder. Smell, tied as it is into the sense of taste, is a powerful force in triggering recollections and remembrances.

I remember my mom making beef stew in the crock pot, where it would simmer throughout the day. Picking almonds out of the party mix at my paternal grandparents’ house on Christmas Eve. Eating beef stroganoff later that night. A tart lemon dessert my maternal grandmother made each year (and still makes from time to time; I got to have a slice this past Thanksgiving). Containers of bacon bits, bottles of Ranch dressing (both staples of my diet when I was younger), and Pez in my stocking on Christmas morning, which often yielded to a breakfast casserole fresh from the oven. The one and only time I had alcohol before I was 21 (shh, don’t tell!) was when I got a splash of champagne in my orange juice one Dec. 25.

Food showed up everywhere: I remember the cinnamon and gingerbread smell of a paper fold-out holiday street scene we unpacked along with the other decorations. And the photo of candlelight illuminating some sparkling champagne on the album cover I carefully handled each year so I could listen to “Do You Hear What I Hear?” And the Christmas ornaments featuring small mice tucked cozily into beds made from walnut shell halves.

As my family has expanded, so have the food memories. My wife’s family tends to enjoy cheese fondue on Christmas eve, a meal for which I’ve declared myself the official cheese grater.

I love grating cheese. It’s so gratifying to watch the block get smaller while the pile grows larger. You can tell you’re really accomplishing something. Success is so measurable and obvious.

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(I included my hand for a sense of scale.)

My children have been quick to identify and generate their own traditions. They may try something once and then declare that that’s what they eat whenever they visit Grandma and Grandpa, as they have with biscuits and gravy at my parents’ house.

I realized recently that now is when their lifelong memories are starting. My earliest recollections—the ones I can reliably say are true and in context—are from when I was 4 to 6 years old, so this is the time in my kids’ lives when they’re inhaling the scents of seasonal spices or otherwise mundane meals and connecting them with sparkling colored lights, sleeping bags under the Christmas tree, and everything else catching their eyes this winter.

In other news, I fell asleep while writing this post.