[As I write this, I'm "making a list and checking it twice" of things which need to be packed for my annual Christmas Up North. I'm also looking at a snow storm which is blanketing my hometown with 8-12 inches in the next 24 hours and thinking, "This could be all sorts of fun!"]
When I was younger, Christmas was always a huge deal in my household. Shortly after Thanksgiving, my father would bring the artificial tree down from the garage rafters and the tree would be assembled next to the fireplace in the recreation room. He would then haul down the many boxes of Christmas ornaments and decorations from the attic. We would then go about making the house as festive as possible: Dad would put the lights on the tree, I would place the ornaments, Dad would place the garland. Mom would hang garland wreaths in the windows. I would hang the advent calendar and the small wind chimes in the kitchen, and there would be many other decorations around the house. It usually took us an entire day to get the place decorated. A fair amount of the decorations were handmade by my mom several decades ago.
Then there was the baking. My mom and I would bake many different kinds of bars and cookies and candies: chocolate bars with graham cracker crust, chocolate fudge balls dipped in chocolate ice cream sprinkles, homemade white chocolate, Chex mix, no-bake cookies, friendship cake (a sweet cake made with fermented fruit), fruit cake, you name it, we probably made it. My mom would send fruit cakes to family living elsewhere and make pecan pies for my dad to take to the “shop”. (He was a diesel mechanic at a local power plant for many years). We would spend days baking. And eating.
Christmas Eve was usually spent wrapping things up (somewhat literally). For dinner on Christmas Eve, my mother would make a dish called Tourtière which is a recipe from Quebec (where some of her ancestors are from). It’s a meat pie containing mainly pork and potatoes, and the contents are finely ground together and baked in a crust. I never really cared for it, so I would usually eat something else (after having my obligatory little sliver) like Spaghetti-O’s with franks. The rest of the night would be spent doing whatever last-minute wrapping needed to be done before Christmas.
Christmas morning would dawn early – my dad has always enjoyed waking everyone up at 7:30 a.m. by playing Christmas music loudly to get the unwrapping started. After wandering downstairs with our respective drinks (coffee for dad, milk for mom, hot chocolate for me), the unwrapping would begin. I’ve usually been the person to hand out the gifts under the tree, so I’ve worn a Santa hat for this occasion for many years. After the unwrapping, it would be on to the cooking!
My usual duty was “maker of homemade stuffing.” Dried bread, raw eggs, Italian seasoning, several other ingredients, and get those hands in the bowl and start mixing! The turkey would have been thawing in water overnight, so after the bird was prepared and properly stuffed, I was free to head over to my best friend’s house for gift exchanging. I would bundle up in my winter jacket, hat, scarf and gloves and trek the quarter-mile to her parents’ house.
By the time I would return, dinner would be mostly cooked, and my sister and her family would be on their way. Turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, dinner rolls, cranberry sauce and rutabagas would be on everyone’s plates. Conversations flew every which way. After dinner, gifts would be exchanged, and then everyone would start eying the pies: pumpkin and apple. Conversation would linger on until around 9:00 p.m., and then the night would end. Dishes would be stacked in the sink; they could wait until the following day.
My mom and I no longer bake the way we used to, and sometimes I miss that. She will still make Tourtière for Christmas Eve dinner, and my father will still wake us up on Christmas morning by playing loud, festive music. However, my sister now makes Christmas dinner, so the only thing happening during the day at the homestead after gift unwrapping is lounging. I haven’t seen the best friend I’d exchange gifts with in six years and haven’t had contact in over a year. I assume she’ll also be “home”, but I also assume she won’t knock on my parents’ door.
But some things, minor things, haven’t changed. I still look forward to snow and the way the moonlight will glint off of the freshly lain snowdrifts and the way tree branches look when covered in inches of snow. I can’t wait for mid-winter silence which can only truly be found in the country. I still look forward to the awesome food and even make my own contributions. (This year will be several homemade vegetable and cracker dips and a cheese ball. We’re doing non-traditional “heavy hors-d’eouvres” for Christmas dinner). I can’t wait to sleep in my old bedroom and, for a brief few days, become my parents’ “little girl” again.
Merry Christmas, everyone.