Christmas dinner at my parents’ house, 1980
When I was a child, our Christmas dinner was almost exactly the same as our Thanksgiving dinner. We opened with celery sticks stuffed with cream cheese and olives (a favorite of my mother’s) and shrimp cocktail (a relic of mess hall Thanksgivings), and then enjoyed roast turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, and a plethora of vegetables: sweet potatoes, squash, turnip, cranberry sauce, and some more everyday vegetable for the kids who were picky eaters. Creamed onions often made an appearance. Dessert was pie, and lots of it – apple, pumpkin, and mince were the three constants, with a couple of other varieties usually added. The one food, other than cookies (to be discussed later this month) which was special for Christmas was stuffed dates, the nearest to sugarplums we could devise. My father and I would make them by inserting half a walnut into a date and then rolling it in confectioners’ sugar.
Did we eat these foods because the magazines in the supermarket told us we should? Or were they really part of our heritage? As we were New Englanders of primarily English and Scotch-Irish stock, I think it was the latter. For the most part, our holiday dinners were a slightly stripped-down version of the dinner my great-great-grandfather described having for Thanksgiving in 1879: “…turkey, chicken, baked chicken pie, plumb pudding, pumpkin pie.” The plum pudding tradition seems to have died out, although one of my father’s aunts (the other side of the family) made one at least once that I can remember. The mince pie hangs on in New England, or at least in Maine, and also in Old England, although they make them much smaller there.My Christmas table this year, as for most of the past 38 Christmases, will be quite different from my childhood feasts. Hors d’oeuvres may vary from year to year, but the entrée is always a pork roast stuffed with apples and prunes. When it’s available, we may also have medisterpølse, a Danish sausage flavored with allspice. I will need a meat-grinder and sausage-stuffer for my mixer before I can tackle making my own.
There will be a whole blanched almond hidden in the pudding, and whoever finds the nut in his or her portion has to keep it hidden until all are finished eating, and then claim the prize.All this is eaten on Christmas Eve. For the first twelve years of our marriage we did various things on Christmas Day; sometimes going to a relative’s house for a turkey dinner, and once I did a roast beef and Yorkshire pudding dinner in our tiny house. Our Christmas Day became even more of a festival when Sisterfilms was born that day in 1984. Our Christmas dinner still varies – often it’s been a simple chicken and rice casserole, last year it was more of a brunch with aebleskiver. There was a
brief flirtation with ice cream cakes from Dairy Queen, but for some time now Sisterfilms’ birthday cake has been a bûche de noël; now she mostly makes it herself. I’ll be sure to take a picture this Christmas.