Monday, December 17, 2007

It's begining to look sort of a lot like Christmas.

First of all, we awoke this morning to a rather crisp 55F (13C). This is pretty wintry stuff for the Fringe O' Paradise and as such we have been filled with Christmas cheer. Which is good, because TFBIM would otherwise be irritable a bit touchy from trying to wrap up her Christmas shopping amidst the teeming hordes of Mongols holiday crowds.

This year marks something of a turning point. NOS, having lost his innocent views on the matter of Santa Claus, has asked for more Big Kid stuff...a new laptop, a "real watch" and real kitchen knives, and so forth. (NTS still has a couple of years or so of this, lest TFBIM and I feel too old, too soon.) On the plus side, he (NOS) is now more of a participant and less of a spectator in the panoply of our Christmas tradition, appalling mish-mash that it is.

These traditions are the results of a curious combination of the assorted ancestors with which we have saddled the poor lads. There are things from Cuber (mostly TFBIM's contingent) and Spain (mostly my dad's side) and Italy (mostly my mom's side) and both bucolic and highbrow Americana, with a dash of old-school High Church Catholicism for piquancy.

For example, this is the first year NOS has had to sit down and fill out and send Christmas cards. There are many in this day and age who allow the daily stresses of life to, er, reprioritize the whole process. As I am not among those, I am also not among those who wish my sons to behave less than diligiently in this regard. Not being a Luddite, though, he is allowed to do the whole mailmerge tango for this corporal work of mercy.

Another Christmas tradition mish-mash concerns the food situation. In Spain and in Cuber -- when they have afforded their socialized medicine enough of a respite so as to accumulate food -- the big deal for Christmas Eve (which is the big night) dinner is a roast suckling pig, all tenderness and crisp skin. There are some discrepancies as regards whether smoke ought perfume the roast (Yes in Spain, no in Cuber...I prefer it Spanish style, but nobody else likes tampering with tradition.) what sorts of seasonings ought be present (EVOO, garlic, thyme and lemon in Spain; a cubic yard of garlic, lime juice and cumin for Cuber...I prefer the Cuban way), and what sort of side dishes ought accompany said roast (this argument goes to Cuber) and what sort of desserts ought follow (Spain wins this one).

In our family, we used to eat this on Spanish time, i.e. after Midnight Mass. In Ye Olden Days of Yore, Christmas Eve was a day of abstinence (oh, shut UP) and therefore the whole roast pig thing was shoved back until 1am which, if you're at all up to speed with the way people function in Spain, is roughly equivalent to your having dinner at 8pm. Late, sure, but nothing that'd raise any eyebrows.

Once kids arrived, though, we went to having it on the early side, shunting aside the Italian format of having a late lunch which they (the Italians) inexplicably called dinner even though it was at 3pm. Since Christmas Eve was traditionally meatless, the Italians on my mother's side had the "seven fishes" thing. Basically, you had seven seafood items at dinner, representing the seven sacraments. Since your average elementary school child cannot possibly be expected t0 work up much excitement over things such as salt cod or mussels, the whole thing was let wither on the vine. A loss in many respects, although not having to carry your girth in a wheelbarrow enhances, I think, the sense of celebrating the birth of the Messiah.

After that, we go hear Midnight Mass* and this year NOS and the rest of the Boys Choir have been compelled asked to sing in the concert immediately preceding Mass. Then, once we have arrived back at home base, we position the gifts under the tree and crash out. This is followed by two inviolable traditions:

1- A child of the household waking up at crazy o'clock demanding to rip wrapping off gifts, NOW, and
2- NOS telling the assembled the "real meaning of Christmas" which strikes people as an impressive as Hell show of fervor...at least to those not familiar with the Charlie Brown Christmas TV special and the appalling frequency it is viewed ovah heah.

Christmas Day is usually spent schlepping from house to house, hanging out with the people you didn't get to see on the 24th and sometimes, unfortunately, with many whom you did. The very best part of it all is our Boxing Day brunch, in which we (finally!) get to hang out with people we like and only people we like, having food that is unequivocally edible.

Cynics would tell you THAT is the real meaning of Christmas. Not I, you understand, but cynical people would.

-J.

* Last year, incidentally, Midnight Mass was a fiasco. Normally, it's a properly yells-bells-and-smells affair, all grand and solemn and Latin and formal, but last year, for reasons which have yet to be adequately explained, the whole matter went sort of bongos-tambourines-kumbaya with the priest singing the Gospel reading with an acoustic guitar.

Posted by Joke at 11:46 AM

6 Comments

  • Blogger BabelBabe posted at 2:29 PM, December 17, 2007  
    so you spent last Christmas Eve in the ER, hyperventilating, yes? : )

    we go to the 430 CE service, so as to accommodate H's mom, who caters tot he catholics who go to six pm mass. If we went to (my) traditional 7pm service, no one would eat anything while it was hot. Which brings me to my next thought - the seven fishes. Will someone pls inform my MIL that tuna salad is NOT acceptable? How about some yummy smoked salmon, or even maybe some toasts with caviar? Hmmm? But Noooooooo...we get canned crab meat dumped on a block of cream cheese (1)cut up English muffins with some sort of bizarre seafood spread (don't ask, they are gross - 2), tuna salad (3), baccala and potatoes (4), linguini with clam sauce (inedible but still...(5), fried smelts (generally cold - 6), shrimp cocktail (the only really good thing there (7). Sometimes she sneaks in some other sort of fish - cooked-to-death salmon fillet, or crabcakes. I ALWAYS eat before we head over there, and drink copiously (when possible).
  • Blogger Kim posted at 6:29 AM, December 18, 2007  
    BabBab - I'm never coming to your place for Christmas

    J - this is priceless:
    Last year, incidentally, Midnight Mass was a fiasco. Normally, it's a properly yells-bells-and-smells affair, all grand and solemn and Latin and formal, but last year, for reasons which have yet to be adequately explained, the whole matter went in a sort of bongos-tambourines-kumbaya with the priest singing the Gospel reading with an acoustic guitar.

    and can we come to your place on Boxing Day? (BTW - this year I have shifted seeing my dad to before Christmas so our Boxing Day can be in the same vein as yours) (and a question of logistics - how many do you invite over on Boxing Day?)
  • Blogger Joke posted at 4:33 PM, December 18, 2007  
    In the old days, before the Italian side was given the shortest of shrifts, the seven fish were (more or less, there used to be annual changes):

    1- Fried calamari
    2- Salt cod croquettes
    3, 4, 5- Cacciuco (Italian bouillabaise, with shrimp, scallops and mussels)
    6- Linguine with white clam sauce
    7- Whole roast red snapper

    Dessert was ALWAYS a pannetone bread pudding and Italian nougats.

    Tuna salad is NOT an option. Tell your MiL that her stay in Purgatory will be lengthened because people who've had such inflicted upon them will not be inclined to pray for her. (They may be disinclined for other reasons, but this is surely as good a reason as any.)

    Oh, and I figure that having ONLY people we like around for Boxing Day is a well-deserved sliver of joy at Christmas.

    -J.
  • Blogger YetAgainJen posted at 7:41 PM, December 18, 2007  
    Yay for the Cuban porkroast! We have it every year for Christmas, served with latkes.

    Jen
    http://olivespearls.typepad.com/knittersknitters/
  • Blogger Joke posted at 10:49 PM, December 18, 2007  
    For the full ecumenical effect, try making yuca latkes.

    -J.
  • Blogger bluemountainsmary posted at 11:54 PM, December 18, 2007  
    Priest + guitar - the results are never pretty. Or inspiring.
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