So we have our Christmas traditions: listening to a recording I made from the radio in 1985 on a cassette, that has since been converted to CD, featuring Celtic and British Isles Christmas/holiday music. You never hear this stuff on mainstream radio, and it’s a shame; there’s some fine music that’s not Mariah Carey or Michael Bublé (no offense to them but they’re mainstream). I challenge you to find a version of “Miss Fogarty’s Christmas Cake” that beats what we have.
Anyway, that, and the King’s Singers, and the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack from 1965, with some well-placed Mannheim Steamroller and Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and “The Nutcracker” filling in the gaps is how we do Christmas. The music is our background and inspiration and reminder of our family traditions. The kids (I jest; they’re 33 and 29 and so mature and living amazing lives) pick what they want for the various activities: trimming the tree features the KPFT Celtic music, wrapping gifts = Charlie Brown, opening gifts = The King’s Singers.We have libations that accompany the aforementioned activities, but that’s another post.
Tonight Chris, after working 12 hours (thanks, Mother Oil, for scheduling this turn-around over the holidays. I love you and you suck for this), came home and wrapped gifts. This man could get a job at Nordstrom’s as a professional gift wrapper. He measures, he has an eye for symmetry and detail, and uses a square and a sharp knife with which to cut paper. There’s a huge contrast between his wrapping and mine. That’s why I bag gifts. No precision involved.
So we were away from family for a long time, and we created our own traditions, some of which I’ve already mentioned. Another is opening a gift on Christmas Eve. This came from Chris: you open a non-family gift on Christmas Eve. Then you finish whatever you’re drinking, pretend to go to bed, and then tiptoe around while putting Santa gifts under the tree and in the stockings. To whit: My daughter and I have crossed paths on more than one Christmas Eve, pretending we’re invisible to one another, while stuffing stockings. My family put citrus in our stockings; as we have an orange tree that occasionally yields ripe fruit for the holiday, we load up the stockings with oranges. Or grapefruit and Cuties, if the oranges aren’t ripe.
My family had a fake tree, for many years it was aluminum, with a 4-color wheel that turned to shine red, green, yellow and blue onto the shiny silver faux boughs. I hated that thing. My dad had fire phobia so aluminum was a staple until I was a high school sophomore, when my mom convinced him to use a green fake tree and lights . I hate the fake trees. I’d rather have no tree than a fake.
Growing up, family, neighbors and friends would wander through the house on Christmas Eve, so my mother had a huge pot of Italian sausage that everyone would eat, even if you were the rude neighbor who only liked us when we offered food, and Italian rolls, and damn! It was so good! She’d start it 3 or so days ahead so it could marinate and steep, and it was so rich. That was a tradition I wanted to perpetuate.
When we lived in Lompoc, in the late 80s, I called her to get her recipe. I wrote it down but it’s definitely fluid — nothing is measured — and I’ve added/subtracted/altered the recipe over the years. Like, making the same thing but with vegan sausages for our vegan daughter. Two pots, simmering side-by-side, one vegan and one full of animal products. Hey, we adapt and we grow. And it’s still really good, especially with homemade sourdough rolls (I haven’t made them for years but they’re really good).
Tomorrow I’ll make the sausage dish to be served on Christmas Eve. Our son and his GF will be here and I anticipate fancy cocktails and a new spin on our traditions. I’m open to that and anticipating a fresh perspective on a familiar way — I welcome the new take and savor the old ways as well.
Now I get how stories about great battles and history-making events evolved. Each generation puts a spin on their perspective and we adapt and progress.
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and enjoy whatever your traditions endure!