TT: Christmas Eve!

JANE: Happy Christmas Eve, Alan!

ALAN: Thank you. And the same to you.

Santa Claus aka Father Christmas on the Job

Santa Claus aka Father Christmas on the Job

Christmas is coming,
The goose is getting fat…

How fat are your geese? Mine are doing very well, thank you. Tell me, what does Christmas Eve mean to you?

JANE: From the time I was small, Christmas Eve was my favorite part of the Christmas season, even more than Christmas.  It wasn’t until I was in college that I discovered that for some people it’s just another day to shop.

ALAN: Oh shopping!

Here, all the shops are closed on Christmas Day, of course. But they re-open the day after. Nevertheless, everybody appears to develop a terrible fear of starvation and the supermarkets are always seething with people whose trolleys are piled high with (usually) rubbish. I hate it because I feel very uncomfortable in large crowds. Nevertheless I still go to the supermarket on Christmas Eve because fresh fruit and salad stuff and bread really does need to be bought at the last minute. But I still hate it! Nevertheless, strawberries!!

JANE: Ah…  For you, those would be summer strawberries, which I agree would suffer if bought early.  However, down here, most of the produce is only the illusion of fresh.  A day or two one way or another doesn’t make a big difference.

ALAN: And then there are all the people who are doing their last-minute present shopping. That I avoid completely…

It gets worse every year. There have always been big sales after Christmas and in the New Year, but lately the shops have started having pre-Christmas sales as well, and therefore shopping has now become a total nightmare. I refuse to take part in it.

JANE: Since all my family lives at a distance, I usually have completed most of my Christmas shopping a couple of weeks before Christmas.  We do some of it far in advance, because if we see the perfect thing, we buy it and then put it in a special “present box,” to be pulled out and marveled at later.  However, since kids’ tastes shift rapidly, I usually wait until December to shop for things for nieces and nephews.

All of which is to say that by Christmas Eve, gifts are wrapped and shopping can go on without me.  As far as I recall, this is how it was when I was a kid, too.  Christmas Eve was centered around two things: food and church.

ALAN: Church was always a complete irrelevance in my family, but food… Ah! Food! I have an interesting food story, but you raised the subject, so tell me your food story first…

JANE: I was raised Catholic.   In the olden days, Christmas Eve was a “meatless” day.  However, since my mom came out of an Italian-American tradition, this was far from a burden.  Dinner would consist of a wide variety of seafood dishes.  The two I loved best were stuffed squid (with the tentacles served separately, blanched, then seasoned with  garlic and olive oil, included as one of many appetizers) and spaghetti in a red sauce with clam and lobster.  I’m sure there were other dishes as well – certainly an enormous salad and some form of fresh bread – but those are the two I anticipated every year.

When I’m home for Christmas Eve, I still make them.  Jim won’t eat squid, but he’s become very good at making the clam and lobster sauce.

ALAN: That sounds mostly yummy. I absolutely adore squid and I love lobster (though it’s so expensive that I almost never get a chance to eat it), but I really don’t like clams at all. So perhaps together Jim and I add up to one normal person…

JANE: Oh, you’d be able to avoid the clams.  They’re more in the sauce as seasoning anyhow.  I could omit putting them back in if you and Robin were dining with us.

Do you have any special Christmas Eve foods?

ALAN: Now thereby hangs a tale. When I was a child, the only relatives who lived nearby were my grandparents. They lived about fifteen minutes’ walk away on the other side of the village. So each household took it in turns to host Christmas – one year they’d come to us, the next year we’d go to them.

JANE: That sounds nice.  We didn’t have any relatives near, except sometimes a visiting grandparent.  However, we always had close friends over, so we never felt bereft.   So what was it like to go to “Grandmother’s House” for Christmas?

ALAN: My grandmother had a huge and ancient fireplace with a built in oven off to one side. The fire itself was used to heat the hot water cylinder and it also kept the oven nicely warm. So, once every two years, it would be ritually cleaned and scrubbed and serviced. This generally involved at least one, and possibly two, visits from a chimney sweep. He always came well equipped with oddly flexible brushes with which to poke and prod the oven’s mysteriously convoluted pipes and grilles.

When all was deemed ready, the fire would be carefully lit and fed regularly with the best of all possible coal. The turkey would go into the oven early on Christmas Eve and cook slowly for at least eighteen hours. Occasionally it would be prodded, and the juices and giblets would be examined with all the care and attention to detail of a haruspex on the threshold of an important divination. Eventually the monster bird was deemed to be cooked to perfection. Time to overeat…

JANE: Eighteen hours?  That was either a very cool fire or a truly enormous turkey…  We routinely cook our turkey on our grill and, though it does take hours, it’s more like fifteen minutes per pound.   Are you’re teasing me…  again?

ALAN: No, I’m not teasing you. In my memory, the turkey does indeed loom enormously, though I am prepared to admit that memory may be exaggerating its size a little. I’m fairly sure that I’m not exaggerating the cooking time though, so you are probably correct in assuming that the oven didn’t get very hot.

Despite all the careful servicing of the oven, when the bird was eventually brought forth it would reach the table dusted with a light sprinkling of soot. The really lucky diner would also get the occasional crunchy cinder to chew on. Yummy!

But, joking aside, I really do have very fond memories of Christmas dinners at grandma’s place.

JANE: I love the ritual that goes with making an elaborate dinner – and putting up decorations and all the rest.  When I was a kid, part of that ritual was the Christmas Eve “Children’s Midnight Mass” at our local church.

Midnight mass is usually only celebrated at, I believe, Christmas and Easter.  Maybe only Christmas…  It’s been a while. Anyhow, the idea is to be in church at the magic moment when the special day arrives.

ALAN: I’ve never attended any church services of any description, so I’ve always found descriptions of them quite intriguing. Tell me more.

JANE: Glad to!  Our church had a realistic sense of what it meant to have over-fed, over-stimulated children awake at midnight.  So the children’s “midnight mass” was celebrated at 9:00 pm, with all the appropriate pomp and color and ritual.  But it was over by about 10:30, so kids (who were also anticipating Santa and the contents of shiny packages) could be gotten home and into bed.

ALAN: Very wise.

JANE: We were usually permitted to open one package on Christmas Eve.  Mom would often steer us to one that included an item of attire, so we’d also be wearing a new sweater or something, which just added to the feeling of Special Occasion.

ALAN: Lucky you! I never got any presents until Christmas Day. How could I? There weren’t any presents at all in the house until Father Christmas came overnight.

JANE: Ah, but these were gifts from family or from the friends who had come to join us for Christmas Eve dinner, so Santa Claus was in no way compromised!

I loved going to church and singing at the top of my lungs.  I loved going home to try to sleep for a few hours before one or more siblings would come creeping in to find out if I thought it was morning yet.

Somehow, after all of that, Christmas itself couldn’t live up to the Eve.  But it was pretty great, too, with presents and more wonderful food and more wonderful guests…

Ah, happy sigh…

I hope that all of you out there have a memorable Christmas Eve!

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6 Responses to “TT: Christmas Eve!”

  1. Paul Says:

    My ritual after opening presents was to curl up with the Winston SF or Lone Ranger novel that one of my two wise aunts would have given me.

  2. James Says:

    Do either of you still have any of the trappings or presents you received as children? I look around and find that nothing of my childhood Christmases has survived except some photos. My father might still have some ornaments, but he no longer puts up a tree. (My brother’s tree is now the family tree.)

  3. Louis Robinson Says:

    Since Midnight Mass would be an expansion of Compline, which was to be said before retiring for the night, holding it at 9 before the children retired for the night is entirely in accordance with the Rule, isn’t it?

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