I had no Christmas growing up. We did put up a tree because my mother had a collection of German glass ornaments, but there was no special meal and only minimal presents. This was because my stepfather, who was Jewish, had agreed to give up all religious observance when he married my mother, who was also Jewish but was determined to forget the fact. She was a self-loathing Jew who raised me to think that the mark of personal success was passing as non-Jewish. So, no Christmas, but also no Hannukah.
Both of my husbands were gentiles and over the years I created for my four children the Christmas I had always wanted. They have so fully embraced the traditions we observe, that no deviation is permitted today. The cocktail hour always includes champagne and shrimp, eaten around the kitchen counter while we finish up the dinner preparations. We used to cook a turkey, but when we bought our first house we switched to filet of beef done on the outside grill. Everything else remains the same. The potatoes must be Julia Child's pommes savoyarde, the carrots glazed, the green veg brussels sprouts seasoned with nutmeg, the dessert pears poached in red wine and the same 3 varieties of cookies we have always made. And at the end of the meal, there must be After Eights, never mind that there is much better chocolate available these days, clementines and nuts. A few years ago someone radically suggested eiswein be served with the chocolate and nuts, but we've gone back to port.
Following the German tradition of my 2nd ex-husband's family, we have this meal on Christmas Eve. After dinner, children open the gifts of any guests who joined us, but Santa's presents appear in the middle of the night - stockings at the foot of the beds, boxes and packages under the tree. By rule, stockings are emptied before breakfast, all at once by everyone together. Then a big breakfast must be prepared, eaten, and cleaned up before we can begin the ritual opening of presents. In age order, youngest first, each person opens one present. Then we go around again, everyone oohing and ahhing as each gift is fastidiously unwrapped and appreciatively acknowledged. It takes all morning until finally, it is time to eat again and we are glad of the leftovers awaiting us.
This has turned out to be just a list of what we eat and what we do and doesn't quite capture the inherent spirit of the celebration. Ten years out from the divorce, we all still miss the big house that easily accommodated 20 at the table or in the living room. But we are together and the ritual continues because it is ours. Newcomers are welcomed and are fully and humorously indoctrinated into the Noble-Maeder way of doing things.
|Missing from 2016 picture: Rebecca, Clara, baby Emilia|