Well, it’s certainly a different kind of Christmas, this year of 2021!
I have friends, acquaintances and family members who have tested positive for Coronavirus (Omicron Holiday version!) lately, so Christmas, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve plans have all been scuttled and re-arranged. Nothing like a little Covid scare to keep one on one’s jingle-belled toes!
Growing up, our family would always have Christmas Eve Dinner. It was just the nuclear family (my Mom and Dad, brother and sisters) and there wasn’t a set menu. We all loved Roast Duck, until the amount we had to cook proved a fire hazard. I also remember Cornish Hens (which I loved), but there were no real hard and firm traditional menu items served. Sometimes my Dad would come after attending my cousin Robert’s Christmas work party, where booze and gambling flowed freely. Those would always make for lively dinners!
We were allowed to open one gift Christmas Eve, but the bulk of our gifts appeared Christmas morning. Santa didn’t wrap our gifts, a tradition which I carried on when I had children, as I think it’s a brilliant idea and saves Mrs. Claus a lot of time! Christmas morning at my Mom’s house, later on, became a type of Open House with Brunch, for friends and family to drop in. This year, we are all going to take a Rapid-test for Corona before we attend. Oh how times have changed!
Since I wanted to start new traditions when I got married (the first time), I asked my husband Bill what traditions his family had for Christmas Eve Dinner. He always remembered the Plum Pudding his Grandmother made for dessert, along with a homemade Hard Sauce. So, being the Martha-Stewart wanna-be I was in the ’80’s, I decided to make my own Plum Pudding.
I looked up the recipe in my Fannie Farmer Cookbook (I was very into Fannie Farmer back then) and Plum Pudding was an elaborate affair of a dessert, with a long list of strange ingredients (including Beef Suet and lots of spices). I had to buy a special mold from Williams Sonoma in which to house the pudding (which is more of a cake, at any rate), which had to mixed and steamed for a whopping six hours over a double boiler. I went to the butcher at Publix for the Beef Fat and gathered my ingredients to concoct this complicated English tradition.
In England, they actually have a day a month before Christmas- Stir-Up Sunday– where the day is devoted to making this dessert. The pudding is steamed over simmering water, released from the mold and then wrapped in a brandy-soaked towel for at least a month. Experts advised it was better made A YEAR ahead and left to soak, but I never had the energy for that. I did buy little silver charms to be baked into the cake, each one signifying a different outcome- a bell for a wedding, a coin for money etc… and whatever you got in your slice was supposed to be your future for the coming year. I wrapped them in tin foil and put them in the pudding, but over the years, one by one, they disappeared.
One day at Christmastime, my husband and I were in Publix when he exclaimed:
There it is! There’s the pudding my grandmother used to make.Bill
Imagine my dismay to see, the Plum Pudding his dear old grannie used to serve was inside a small black and gold box of Fortnum & Mason Plum Pudding, sitting on the shelf. I’d been spending all day, knocking myself out and spending a small fortune to re-create a dessert that could’ve been bought for $5.99 at Publix! At any rate, that wasn’t me back in those days, I wanted to make everything from scratch and the more elaborate, the better. My husband did insist on making the Hard Sauce himself (as Granny did). It was just softened butter, confectionary sugar and vanilla, whipped together.
For my Christmas Dinners, back then, I served Ambrosia (Fannie Farmer Recipe) for a First Course in pretty Waterford Lismore glasses. Somehow we settled on Roast Beef for the Main Course, which was accompanied by potatoes and a green vegetable. My favorite part of the meal was the Yorkshire Pudding, a bread made by pouring a batter into the pan the meat had cooked in. You got the fat to bubble, before you poured the batter in and it all rose up in white waves; the result was a quite delicious, eggy bread.
Of course dessert was the F**king Plum Pudding I’d stewed over, accompanied by whatever other treats were lying around and some Andes Mint Chocolates on a silver tray. As I recall, ironically, no one particularly liked the Plum Pudding, so it would sit around in it’s tin mold, for months in the refrigerator (I didn’t have the heart to throw it out straight away), until I would finally pitch it- probably where all the little silver charms went to. Funny enough, one of my favorite Christmas Eve dinners I remember from those days was a year we decided to skip the fancy meal, ordered pizza and watched Christmas movies on T.V. With so much going on Christmas Day, not having to cook and clean a big dinner the night before was a huge relief!
When I married my husband Zeke, their tradition was to go to his brother Mike’s house. It had always been at his Mom’s, but when she passed away, Mike took up the tradition. Sometimes Gregg, his other brother, would host Christmas Eve, with his wife Becky and we hosted a couple times as well. One year, we miscalculated the amount of time the Beef Tenderloin took to cook, but the wine kept flowing and by the time it was finally ready, everyone (except the kids as far as I know) was smashed! Last year, we were by ourselves and I can’t even remember what we did.
This year, my husband has planned an elaborate menu. He’s ordered Caviar from California, with all the trimmings, picked up a beautiful Beef Tenderloin from the butcher, which he will season, cook and serve with a Bearnaise Sauce. I’m making a Caprese Salad (green and red), Mashed Potatoes, Ina’s Roasted Brussel Sprouts (by request) and Popovers. I’m making Popovers, instead of Yorkshire Pudding, because a Beef Tenderloin doesn’t render much fat, so melted butter is substituted and it’s cooked in a popover pan. Dessert will be whatever goodies we’ve amassed and some Fresh Mint Ice Cream from Scooped, since we’re into the homemade ice cream this year and I needed to make some form of dessert from scratch.
Back in the old days, I’d screech into Christmas Day exhausted, overextended and grumpy because I tried to “do it all” and live up to impractical expectations imposed by… myself? Society? The Spectre of Christmas Past? My mother always said the myth that Santa Claus did all the work of Christmas was a huge falsehood. That it was Mrs. Claus (ho, ho, ho), not the Jolly Fat Elf, that conducted the bulk of the work to make Christmas what it is.
I can still feel stressed out and overwhelmed by the Holidays, but I try to take care of myself to head that off at the pass these days. Older and wiser, I suppose. I exercise and try to eat something healthy each day; I meditate and practice gratitude. So when our dishwasher decided to quit yesterday, the day before our Christmas Eve Dinner, instead of panicking, I took it in stride and decided we’ll do dishes by hand, like back in the old days. C’est la vie!
At the end of Christmas Day, after all, it’s not about the perfect present, the perfect tree, the perfect decorations, or the perfect meal that counts. It’s about spending time with family and friends and being grateful for all we have. And Jesus’s birth of course!
for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying,”Glory to God in the highest, and on earth pease, good will toward men.”Linus Van Pelt
Up Next: Christmas Cookies