I’ve had a busy, emotional, and fun last few weeks. But that’s what the nebulous four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are, right? It’s four weeks of concentrated family – the good, the bad, the screwy… and how we cope with all of that through food.
Two weeks ago, my mother and I flew down to South Carolina to visit with aunts, cousins and friends. We gathered for a college graduation in Myrtle Beach and it was wonderful. These are family members who, every Christmas Eve, would gather at our house in Shelton and celebrate the holiday. We would have thirty or forty people at the house with a full buffet and desert table. We had traditions – the little girls all got pj’s, my uncle would fall asleep on the couch by eight and snore throughout most of the evening. We had stories – the year another uncle had a – ummm – procedure and sat in the corner of the couch on a bag of ice, quietly moaning throughout the night while all the other men silently thanked god that they weren’t him.
When we moved to upstate New York, we lost all of that. Christmas Eve was first a pile of pre-prepared appetizers thrown into the oven and eaten as we got in from the barn. Something was missing. Then came the bad mood. My mother gets cranky about Christmas, it signifies loss to her. Loss of the family and friends we had, the connections we cherished. Sure, we have friends up here but it’s not the same as people you have thirty or more years with.
At some point I started taking on Christmas Eve duties. Actually, I took on all Christmas duties. I put up the tree, I bake, I try and spread the cheer. I’ve gone through a few variations of the Christmas Eve meal – seafood, crown roast, roast chicken- and seem to have settled on the surf and turf theme. Tonight we are going to have farm-raised (as in our farm) prime rib rubbed with an herb mustard crust, seafood scampi, fresh ciabatta (if it turns out well), various veggies and for dessert, oreo cheesecake.
I started cooking this morning at 8 am. I’ll be cooking all day, but that’s OK. This is my Christmas gift to the family in many ways. Even though I can’t capture the memories of a house full of friends and family, I can at least make the night special in a little way. I can make the table pretty, the food unbelievably delicious…I can set tonight apart from other nights, from other Friday night dinners. I can try and build happy memories that aren’t about loss or loneliness or lack of family.
Tonight, for the first time in eight years we are having two guests for dinner. Maybe next year we’ll add on another one or two and the healing can start and Christmas can be a happy time once again for everyone else as well.