Ah, December, the month of festive merriment — Homes filled with the sound of the Kitchen Aid mixer blending…2 cups flour, 1-cup sugar, ½-tablespoon cinnamon…warm delightful fragrances filling each breath. All efforts focused to honor the season with one well-planned celebration.
Except in my childhood home – there the Tasmanian Devil reigned. December was a bustling whirlwind: Hanukah, 3 children birthday parties, 2 adult birthday cocktail revelries, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, my parent’s anniversary soirée, and, of course, the New Year’s Eve bash.
For us Black Friday was “Decorating Day.” My grandmother would arrive in an overloaded sleigh, resembling a Ford pickup, packed with the products of her yearlong effect. Every year she designed and crafted the decorations. I have memories of her 5, 6, & 7 feet tall candles, made from 10 inches diameter cardboard tubes, painted with military precision red and white stripes. Fanciful gold and silver driftwood on which hand-made ornaments floated from spider silk. Copper tubing contoured into all manner of holiday shapes. And, there were all those decorations for the various one-day events – installed in the morning, dismantled at night to ready the house for the next fête.
Our Christmas dinner table was equally diverse. Yes, there was the ham studded with its array of clove pegs aligned in their juicy trenches. Yes, there was that green-bean dish with its golden tanned globs of white goo. (I firmly believe roasted marshmallows have one purpose: to sit on a chuck of melting chocolate, barely contained between two pieces of graham crackers.) In my multi-ethnic family, the all-American ham and green beans were surrounded by an array of international delights. Lumpia, hand-rolled by any child over the age of 7. Nigerian yams, so shiny from the corn syrup and butter you could see your reflection. Fried udon noodles, seasoned with exotic spices I still find unpronounceable. Stir-fried snow pea leaves. Transparent layered croissants. The United Nations represented on one table.
After I became aware of the outside world, I discovered everyone had a tradition – something that heralds this time of year. On Christmas Eve, my friend goes to a local dairy to buy fresh eggnog with the intention of bringing it to the gathering of friends the next day. However, she always arrives with a bottle of wine because . . . that quart of nog only has a sip left in the container. This has become her holiday tradition.
When it was time for me to form my holiday traditions, I wanted something calmer than the activity of my youth. I also wanted my children to have memories, a tradition we could claim as ours (but, one without ham and marshmallows.) So, every year we select a country and celebrate that country’s seasonal customs and foods. This year is Peru, with a few modifications: I’ll set the clocks ahead five hours so that they chime midnight when it’s only 7:00 PM and use corn nuts rather than chulpe. However, I’m still conflicted about roasting guinea pig –I wonder, is it really just an itsy bitsy tiny ham?