It’s only since I’ve been an “adult” that I’ve noticed the ironies of Christmas Eve at my parents’ house. Being neither Italian nor Catholic, we of course had to celebrate Christmas Eve with the “Feast of the Seven Fishes.” Irony #1.
Next was the guest list and menu itself. Until I was around thirteen or fourteen, the people celebrating with us included my Belgian grandparents (who at least were Catholic) and usually one of my father’s brothers and his family. And now we come to Irony #2. Despite the fact that the majority of my uncle’s family doesn’t eat shellfish, the menu never changed.
During these years of actually using the extension leaves of the dining table, the cooking was done entirely by my mother and my grandmother. The courses didn’t really vary, but they were solid dishes: shrimp with home-made cocktail sauce, oyster stew (or clam chowder), oysters Rockefeller (or clam croquette), fillet of sole, etc. To help with the logistics of clearing and serving seven courses, while the older women bused and waitressed, it would be MY job to “entertain the troops” in-between rounds of food by leading everyone in Christmas carols at the piano.
I’m not quite sure how things dissolved, but…they did. Slowly but surely my father’s relatives moved away, and I think I’ve seen them once in the last five or six years. The grandparents aged quickly, but they still would make it up for Thanksgiving and Christmas. When I left for grad school, I payed to have the piano moved to my place. I think the first time it was just me and my folks was 2008. I was in grad school, in a new relationship, and I gave up Thanksgiving to be with my boyfriend and his family. My parents were crushed. The grandparents didn’t come up for Turkey Day as they normally did. Mom and Dad didn’t go through the normal Friday-and-Saturday-after-Thanksgiving traditions. And this gloomy-Gus attitude extended through Christmas. Again, the Belgians didn’t come…and honestly, they still haven’t returned nor have they accepted offers for free travel.
While there is always the occasional feeling of sadness and loneliness when I realize how small our holiday celebrations have become, I’ve gained a certain wisdom. I strongly believe that extended family comes and goes; they naturally have to “evolve” as the tree grows more branches. You may have celebrated your childhood Christmases with your grandparents, siblings, parents, and aunts and uncles; however, once the grandparents age or die, and once the aunts and uncles have multiple children of their own or multiple grandchildren of their own, and once you and your siblings start your own families…things just have to change.
The holidays are about being with the people you love. While you might not be able to see everyone on that list, the important thing is that everyone around you IS on that list. So while right now I celebrate Christmas Eve with “just my parents”, that’s OK by me. Christmas Eve is still one of my favorite days of the year. I still love my parents to death and think that for a 25-year-old female I have an unnaturally happy relationship with both Mom and Dad. And, thanks to the fact I’m an only child, I know that no matter what, if there’s a Christmas Eve dinner to be had, my folks are going to be at the same one as their daughter.
OK, so if you’re still reading you’re probably wondering why the hell I’m writing about all this in a blog devoted (primarily) to food? Well, I did mention a seven course meal. =)
In the spirit of “change”, as my father and I have become more passionate about food, we have slowly taken over more and more of the cooking duties (Mom isn’t complaining either). Since we’ve all got adventurous stomachs, AND since we only have to buy the expensive seafood ingredients for three people, all nuts are off the buggy. And now we come to Irony #3: despite the fact that (honestly) each of us could stand to lose at least 15-20 pounds, we pick the day of seven courses of seafood to attempt to exercise “portion control.” We now “eat when we’re hungry.” We have the first course around 11AM, have the last course sometime between 4 and 5PM, and in the last three years we haven’t even come CLOSE to course #7. This year, we made it through the first four courses.
I will be posting the recipe for the course I contributed later. But, for those who love to ogle, here was how my family spent Christmas Eve. Hoping yours was just as special. =)
- Crab cakes with lemonaise (Dad)
- Stuffed squid shells (me)
- Lobster bisque (Mom)
- Tuna tartar (Dad)