Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas Past and Present

Funny how the holidays are the same date, every year, and yet every year Christmas sneaks right up on me. Wasn’t it just Thanksgiving? This year marks a milestone for me: this is the first Christmas in thirty-seven years that I will not be spending with my parents. Can you believe that? One year I even dragged them over to Crete after a semester abroad. After 36 Christmases in a row you start to get some traditions in place. A parental Mouse Christmas goes something like this.

On Christmas Eve afternoon we all traipse over to my uncle’s house for hors d'œuvres, cookies and presents. We have to be careful, however – no matter how tasty the snacks, we’ve got a long evening of food and drinks ahead of us. It’s important to take it slow. After a couple of hours, my uncle’s family heads off to church and we more heathen Mouses head to my parents’ house. Now the drinking can begin in earnest, as there’s no more driving to be done. One year my dad and I accomplished hot buttered rum, home brew, wine just before dinner, champagne with dinner (more on dinner later), more wine after dinner and then a bit of single malt scotch after the after-dinner wine. Mr. Mouse was appalled and I had a small headache on Christmas morning. We’ve since learned to (a) cut out the hot buttered rum entirely, (b) sometime substitute limoncello for the scotch, and (c) drink a glass of water for every glass of alcohol. Everyone’s happier that way.

I need to go back and tell you about the traditional Christmas Eve dinner. The family legend goes that when my folks were very young and very poor, they wanted to splurge on something decadent on one Christmas Eve. They decided on champagne and caviar, buying the best they could afford – which was about a $7 bottle and a $1.50 jar – and they’ve been having champagne and caviar on Christmas Eve ever since. The quality (and price) has gone up considerably since then. In addition, we have Raclette cheese, melted in front of the fire (the only time all year the fireplace in the den gets lit), and served with a good baguette, boiled potatoes, dill pickles and pickled onions. It takes forever since you have to wait for the cheese to melt in between rounds, we all end up in shorts and t-shirts because the room gets so bloody hot with the fire going, and you have to keep a close watch on the dogs who are extremely interested in the big plate of melting cheese right at nose level. Christmas Eve is my favorite.

Christmas Day has gotten a little over-the-top in recent years: everyone gets a fully loaded stocking; there's homemade challah pulla bread, coffee, broiled grapefruit and either stuffed French toast or egg, cheese and sausage strata for breakfast; we open presents for hours. If there’s enough snow, we’ll take the dogs on a short cross-country ski; if there’s not enough, we’ll walk. Christmas dinner in recent years has been prime rib and Yorkshire pudding, and often a chocolate stout cake; there was once an attempt at a goose, but that mistake was not repeated. Regardless of the entrée, Mr. Mouse and I roll home, stuffed, sated and possibly in need of a detox.

This year we’ll have Christmas with Mr. Mouse’s family. I’m looking forward to learning new traditions and, as he hasn’t been with his folks for the holidays in ten years, Mr. Mouse will be learning them as well. I love Christmas and seeing how different families celebrate being together - I hear there will be Christmas Eve visits with aunts and uncles and family friends, not so different after all. And I’m even bringing a bottle of champagne to share, because after thirty-six years some traditions are too good to let go.

Note: if anyone is interested in recipes for anything mentioned here, let me know in the comments and I'll try to rustle 'em up for you. Merry-merry and happy-happy, everyone!


  1. Friend Mouse's momDecember 22, 2007 at 9:09 AM

    In reality the bread we traditionally make, and occasionally burn, for Christmas morning is "pulla," Finnish coffee bread, a connection to, and reminder for me of the time I spent in Finland in the early 60's. Oh my, what does that tell us?

  2. Thanks, Mom! I knew "challah" just didn't seem right but I was having a massive brain freeze (due to the 2+ weeks below freezing Maine temperatures, I think). Pulla! And, btw, the early 60's was a LONG time ago! xoxoA