Gary’s December Gems, Reindeer on Rooftops and Turkeys in Kitchens
I’m pulling out our 2019 December Gems and polishing them because repetition is the essence of tradition. Our Christmas traditions took a blow last year, and it’s pretty “iffy” if this year will be much better. But that’s why this time of year is best seen through the lens of nostalgia.
Reality can never compete with nostalgia and neither ZOOM meetings can’t compete with being present among friends and family.- “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing, Baby”. Ain’t nothing like enveloping ourselves in the scents, sounds and smiles of a Christmas kitchen gossip-fest. Let’s hope we can soon say goodbye to the ZOOM Family Christmas. In the meantime, this is what Christmas mean to me.
December has always been very special. Once the clock turns back, I look forward to brightening the long nights with the Christmas lights, decorations and music. .
From the serenity of “O Holy Night” to the swinging arrangements of Ella’s “Rudolf…” and “Frosty…”, seasonal is the soundtrack to the season. Evergreen boughs and gingerbread cookies are our “Eau de Noel” perfume. Images of roast turkey, tortières, raisin pies and fruitcakes dance in our heads. And treasured ornaments make the humblest Christmas Tree a work of art.
Christmas is for children – whatever their age.
Our Christmas traditions were (and still are) influenced by the English and French cultures of my Grandmothers.
When we were very young, our parents would drop us off at my French-Canadian grandmother, Florence’s home a few days before Christmas. Unburdening their offspring just before Christmas allowed them to hit the stores then return to do some warp-speed gift wrapping They could have saved themselves time and money if only they had known that by the time Christmas Eve rolled around, Grandmother had already ensured we were spoiled rotten.
Christmas eve was when the real partying began. In French-Canadian culture, Christmas celebrations revolve around Réveillon. The name derives from the word réveil meaning ‘waking’ and was used by the French as a name for the night-long party dinners held by the nobility. It involves staying awake until midnight and sometimes way beyond! For a kid, that was yet another reason to love Christmas.
Our Christmas Eve Réveillon included a trek to church for midnight mass. When we returned we exchanged gifts and the unwrapping frenzy began. When the last ribbon hit the floor, we sprinted to the buffet table that bent from the weight of food. Last, but certainly not least, was the singing of Happy Birthday to my dad, who shared his birthday with the wee babe in the manger. (A birthday was the only thing they had in common).
In the olden days – even before I was born, staying up until past midnight wasn’t practical for a farming family. The daily milking of the cows began at 5:00 am sharp. Cows don’t do Christmas.
Sharing the spirit – and hospitality of Christmas.
There was one special tradition that was very specific to my Grandmother Florence. It began when she was still a young girl growing up in a small Québec village.
There were many casual farm labourers who worked in the surrounding farmlands. Most of them were far away from their own families during the holidays. I remember Grandmother Florence telling me that in those days, and in those communities, no one would be left to spend Christmas alone – including the hired help.
Years went by and eventually, our family moved away from the farm. In spite of moving to the big city, our rural traditions continued.
A centrepiece of those traditions was to reach out to those who didn’t have a home to return to for the holidays. Invitations were enthusiastically offered and just as enthusiastically received. They began at a time when families didn’t lock their doors, when you didn’t have to call ahead to drop by a friend’s home and when there was always a seat at the table and food to spare.
Christmas on the farm
My maternal grandmother, Edith was of English descent. She was a phenomenal baker whose cherry pound cakes, butter tarts and raisin tarts would have easily won first, second and third place in the Great Canadian bake-off. She had a much more reserved style. Rather than compete with my other grandmother’s traditional Quebec Ragoût de pattes and other French Canadian dishes, she spoiled us with her very Old English “Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding”. No one has since come close to grandmother’s Yorkshire pudding.
Christmas is also about maintaining bonds which, unfortunately, has been difficult these past two years. Each year when I write my Christmas Cards – yes, I still send them – I am reminded of all the people I have been blessed to know. I reminisce about those I’ve come to know and the family and friends who are a constant in my life, as well as those, like both my grandmothers and parents, who are no longer with us.
Christmas traditions vary from family to family, country to country, culture to culture, but whatever the tradition, the childhood versions of ourselves coexist with us – especially at Christmas. We are given full rein at Christmas to bathe in nostalgia which Miriam Webster claims is “a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for a return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition. e.g. homesickness”. Regardless of how many Decembers in our lives, we always remember the month that contained our Christmasses. Our innocence is resurrected in our memories
Grand-nephew, Gabriel with his proud Mom
When I originally sent you these Gems two years ago, our family had welcomed a new member. This year, the munchkin has continued to bring such joy in our lives. He gives the chance to once again experience Christmas through the eyes of a child.
Christmas parties? Ah, yes. I remember them well.
Enjoy your freshly polished December Gems.
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