Merry Christmas from “the ‘Tick,” my friends. That’s what Ottawa natives jokingly call our little village of Manotick.
Hubby and I are all ready for Christmas. The tree is up and trimmed. The house is decorated. Gifts are ready to be wrapped. Somehow I never get around to that until the last minute. Which is a shame since I love to see the tree lit up and surrounded by colourful packages.
The goodies I purchased are stashed in the freezer until tomorrow night. I did not bake this year. I decided that my newly acquired gluten-free baking skills were not up to scratch. So I bought cookies and fruit cake at a local gluten-free bakery that makes lovely things. Hubby bought the turkey yesterday and it sits in the fridge awaiting his newly established brining tradition. Tomorrow I will make my tourtiére. A Christmas Eve tradition of long standing at Hubby’s and my house. Ever since my friend Susan gave me her recipe years ago.
My mum and my sister and I talked about Christmas traditions when I was home earlier this month. I asked them what their favourite tradition was.
I was surprised when they both said their favourite Christmas tradition is a dish passed down from my grandmother Knowles when my mum was a young bride in the late forties, and only ever eaten on Christmas with the turkey dinner. Fruit salad. Yep. Canned mixed fruit, with canned mandarine oranges, and fresh sliced bananas, mixed with whipped cream. Mum and Carolyn love, love, love this.
I think it’s funny that my mum who was such a great cook and who usually made everything from scratch should love this fruit salad so much. Mind you, the tinned fruit had to be properly drained, and the cream had to be real whipped cream, not too sweet, and the bananas sliced just so. But still, that this dish should have pride of place beside the turkey, homemade stuffing, the from-scratch cranberry and orange relish, Mum’s pickled beets, and “chow-chow.” Not to mention the mince pies, steamed plum pudding, elaborately decorated fruitcake, and an array of tiny cookies that she’d been baking all fall. Well, it’s a testament to the idea that a Christmas tradition can be anything you love. Period.
We always had this fruit salad on Christmas at home. And my sister always served it with Christmas dinner at her house. But not at my house. The first year I took Hubby home for Christmas, before he was my Hubby, he was stymied by the idea that something which he considers dessert was served with the main meal. And since I don’t relish the idea of eating the whole bowl myself, I don’t make it anymore.
My own favourite part of Christmas is Christmas Eve. I have always preferred Christmas Eve to Christmas Day. As a child I remember the tree all lit up, the house shining, and a sense of quiet excitement and expectation.
When I was older, after Mum married my stepfather, the decorated house and shining tree, and the sense of everything ready and waiting on Christmas Eve was still important to me. But there was also the excitement of us all being at home, for by then my sisters and brother lived elsewhere. My brother was married and spent Christmas with his family, but us girls and my step-brother were together at Christmas for a few more years. I loved the feeling that we were all at home, tucked up safely in the old farmhouse.
I remember in those years my mum used to use Christmas Eve as a time to try new supper recipes. I’m laughing as I write that because it just occurred to me that after all the hours and hours of baking Mum put in all fall, crossing each item off her lengthy list before she packed it away in the freezer. And with the knowledge that she’d be up early on Christmas morning to put the turkey in the oven and finish the salads. I can’t imagine how she had any appetite for cooking something new on Christmas Eve. But she did.
I remember the year she made quiche Lorraine, from her newly acquired Mastering the Art of French Cooking. That was a big hit. I mean, you have to understand that in New Brunswick in the early seventies no one had even heard of quiche Lorraine.
I always preferred those homey Christmas Eve suppers to the big spread on Christmas Day. And I still do.
Another of my family’s Christmas traditions, which started sometime back in the seventies at home, and which Hubby and I still carry on, is the naming of our Christmas trees. I know, weird eh? It all started one year back on the farm when Lloyd left the tree out in the loafing barn, and it got rained on and then froze. When he brought it in the house the ends of the branches were all kinked and curled up, as if the poor tree had arthritis in its fingers. We named it Arthur. We loved that poor misshapen little tree. Mum and I still speak fondly of Arthur.
One of my favourite parts of Christmas on the farm was when Lloyd would hitch Myrt the horse up to the big logging sled and we’d head out into the bush to cut our tree. Hubby and I always cut our own tree too. But without the horse and sled, more’s the pity.
A couple of times, back in the eighties, when we’d had lots of pre-Christmas snow, Hubby and I skied way back in the bush on crown land and dragged a tree home. Not strictly allowed, I know. But I’m sure the crown didn’t miss one tree. Or that’s what we told ourselves anyway. We don’t do that anymore. We’re reformed. We still like to cut our own though, but now we buy it from a tree farm.
The very first tree we had when we were first together we called Lucy. I have no idea why. At the time Hubby was a little leery of naming a Christmas tree. But he soon entered into the spirit of make believe. In fact a couple of years ago when we were out skiing the skidoo trails on the same crown land where we used to hunt for a tree, Hubby stopped and said nostalgically, “That’s where we found Lucy, remember?”
A few years ago we named our short and very round tree Boris. It seemed appropriate. Every morning the tree stand was bone dry. And Hubby joked about how much Boris drank. I remember writing about Boris on the blog and how he was such a heavy drinker that Hubby threatened to put vodka in the tree stand instead of water. Ha.
This year our tree is very refined looking. In fact it’s one of the best trees we’ve ever had. If you like perfection that is. We named him Nigel after the lovely man from whom we bought him. A transplanted Brit running a tree farm in Canada. I wonder how many of those there are.
You know, Christmas traditions can be anything we want. Anything we love to do and which brings us joy. Or laughter. Or contentment. It doesn’t have to be about perfect hostess outfits. If you want to eschew that silk skirt for flannelette pyjamas, go for it. Our most cherished moments don’t have to be all about the photo op, or the matching family outfits, or the perfect “table-scape.” Maybe it’s all about a salad made from tinned fruit. A gnarled Christmas tree. Or a tatty decoration you made in grade five and still hang on the tree.
Or whatever floats your boat. It is your boat, after all.
As I drove into the village the other day to finish up my Christmas shopping I listened to Tom Power on CBC radio. Tom is from Newfoundland. And he hosts a daily radio program about pop culture. On this day he was chatting with a couple of comedians from Cape Breton who host a podcast. I was laughing out loud as I drove, so I parked the car and sat listening until the end of segment. “Tracy and Martina” were chatting with Tom about Christmas, and in part about about what they loved to eat and drink at Christmas where they live. Boxed wine may have been mentioned, and fried bologna, and chicken bones. Chicken bones are a candy made by Ganong’s in New Brunswick and loved by all Maritimers. Okay, maybe we don’t all love them, but they are a downeast Christmas tradition. You can read about chicken bones here.
And have a listen to Tom’s interview by clicking the link below. Maritimers love to laugh at themselves, people. Hope you get a laugh too.
That’s all from me tonight my friends. In twenty minutes our favourite Christmas story comes on CBC radio. Hubby and I both love to listen to Alan Maitland read “The Shepherd” by Frederick Forsyth. Every, every year. It’s a tradition.
I hope you have a wonderful holiday. Whatever and however you celebrate. And even if you don’t celebrate. May you find joy and contentment, warmth and good cheer. Best wishes from Hubby and me and Nigel. As I write that, I am envisioning our tree speaking with a slight English accent. Okay… that IS weird.
Now… I really must close. I have to get into my flannelette pyjamas and pour the wine.
And besides, it’s your turn to talk. What’s your favourite Christmas tradition?