Merry Christmas! The day our inner child has been awaiting is finally here. It’s Christmas Day, the first of The Twelve Days of Christmas! I have a series of 12 intensely Christmas-y posts planned for the next 12 days. Each post keys off its respective line in that immortal song.
I’m sure you will enjoy my essays on the political ramifications of Leaping Lords, and I have a shocking Dairy & Hotel industry exposé concerning certain Milking Maids. Earlier in the series, you may enjoy the article about the bizarre biology and genetics of so-called “Turtle Doves.” There’s also a travel article; we’re going to France to see some Hens.
Yes, of course I’m kidding. This is a lazy Christmas Day post of random (sometimes silly) thoughts and memories of Christmas Passed.
I’m not really going to post 12 Christmas posts, although I did sort of consider it. You could have some fun doing riffs off the lines of the song. It gets tougher when you get to all those Lords and Pipers and Drummers.
The bird ones are much easier! There’s the Partridge Family, and that’s funny already. Five golden rings? Easy Olympics tie-in. And that connects with the one about British women and cell phones (four Calling Birds).
I’ll spare you, but I just can’t help noting the contrast between the old Twelve Days of Christmas and how it is now. Christmas sneaks earlier and earlier into the year, once the Day passes, it vanishes like a popped balloon!
As I recall, we always put our tree up fairly close to the Day and then left it up into January. (And it’s possible I don’t recall. I estimate a 0.003% chance that foreign thoughts have been implanted in my brain by satellites, a 0.0007% chance that I’m a computer simulation booted just days ago, and a 28.0009% chance I have a really faulty memory.)
I remember much more recently—walking my dog the week after Christmas (well, you have to walk them at some point, don’t you)—and seeing all the trees put out for pickup. I guess it would be crude (especially on Christmas Day) to point out certain parallels between how we have Christmas and how men canonically have sex. (Rather than “slam, bang,…” it’s “buy, wrap, thank you Visa!”)
There is a certain irony in my doing all this writing about Christmas. For me it’s kind of a non-event (as all holidays are). I’ve been single nearly all my life (apparently mostly contentedly) and have lived alone since college. I don’t have strong family ties.
I have friends who would have me over, but that doesn’t work for me. Too close and yet too far. Alone in a crowd kinda thing.
There were some years while I was married where I really felt the holiday again, but it mostly passes me by. [I had a joke here about the Jewish women I’ve dated (there have been a few; apparently one of my “types”). I tried to tie it back to the mind-control bit, but there was no way to pull it off without it being a “Jewish” joke rather than a “Christmas” joke. Just another example of humor being a tricky minefield. What I really should do, in honor of a dear college friend, is come up with the world’s first Jewish Lesbian Christmas joke!]
But so does the stress pass me by. I’ve done Christmas alone so often that it’s normal, and it mostly means free time off from work (plus there are a number of days where no one does anything).
I have the unusual option of partaking in it as much—or as little—as I want. It’s kind of cool once you work past the whole “alone at Christmas time” thing.
[And I’ll tell you a secret. For years I’ve been giving gifts of nice bottles of wine or fine liquors. My Christmas shopping consists of one (expensive) visit to a good liquor store. It’s not random—there’s considerable thought in the selection. It’s just that it’s surprisingly easy to match up your friends with various kinds of good booze.]
Maybe it’s my general love of music, but I love the songs! I have iPod playlists of Christmas songs for this time of year. I’ve shared a few of my favorites in the previous posts.
And finally, it’s the idea of Christmas that warms the heart and softens the frowns. Whatever else might be true, it turns a dark, cold time of year into a joyful event filled with light and color and music and good food. (When you come down to it, that’s actually pretty cool.) And, of course, there’s also the whole Winter Solstice thing. The daylight is coming back!
My father was a Lutheran pastor, so the Christmases of my childhood were both very traditionally observed and seen as “work days.” We did the gift thing on Christmas eve after the traditional family Christmas dinner of lutefisk. Now, when I say “family tradition” what I mean is a tradition imposed by my parents, who apparently loved that Norwegian cooked fish jello known as lutefisk.
Imagine taking some perfectly good freshly caught Cod fish and drying it in the sun until you can pound nails with it. In addition to being useful as a hammer, you can also store the stuff. For centuries. Later, to make it what is very loosely described as “edible,” you soak it in lye, because that’s what it takes to make hammers edible.
Then, what with lye being a deadly poison, you wash the fish. Thoroughly. Very thoroughly. As you might imagine, laundered fish doesn’t have the same consistency as fresh fish. Or—really—as any fish you would want to eat.
Of course, at this point you’re back to raw, if somewhat experienced, fish, so unless you want lutefisk sushi, the final preparation step is cooking. Broiling might have a chance of making this unrevolting—at least the fish pudding could have a crusty top. But around our house we left out the “r” because cooking things in water was how we did it then (possibly under the heading of things making you stronger if they don’t kill you first, or maybe they just really hated flavor back then).
The stuff looked, smelled (ancient, boiled fish!) and tasted pretty much as you might expect. My sister and I wanted no part of it, and we were given (as a concession) pork chops (which, quite frankly, seemed like punishment for not partaking of the lutefisk feast).
The funny thing is that, as I understand it, lutefisk is considered “poverty food” by actual Norwegians; they turn their noses up at it. It certainly seems to be the sort of thing you would eat only if you had to.
It’s only over here that “Norwegian-Americans” observe their heritage with Lutefisk Dinners.
There was a compensation—a huge compensation. Not to be confused with lutefisk is lefse, food of the gods (at least for kids). It’s essentially a potato tortilla; the best lefse is paper-thin. It’s often pressed with a rough cloth to give it a rough texture (that provides traction for the buttering phase). You eat it by applying a thin layer of butter and then as much cinnamon-sugar as humanly possible. Mmmm… butter, sugar, cinnamon! Kid Crack.
I lived for lefse. I would have murdered grandparents for lefse. I still buy it at Christmas time, but nothing—nothing I have ever tasted—comes close to my mom’s lefse. (And that more than makes up for the lutefisk.)
Our Christmas Eve dinner had yet another punishment, at least for me: for dessert there was a Norwegian rice pudding (again: look, smell, taste, texture; all serious fails) served to one and all. Hidden in one bowl was an almond (one of the few nuts I don’t like). Whomever got the almond got some prize. I wouldn’t touch the pudding, so I forfeited the prize every year. (Fortunately it was trivial. A roll of Lifesavers, for example.)
After dessert it was time for the religious readings. The same texts read the same way every year. Can you blame us for being impatient? Sister and I wanted to get to the presents!
And then, later, it was usually off to church for the midnight service. That put sis and I in bed fairly late, but we were up early, because our stockings were filled on Christmas morning. Usually with a lot of candy and some very cheap simple toys—mostly we wanted that candy, a kind of second Halloween.
So there it is, Christmas. I hope yours has been wonderful!!
Pass the lefse!
To play you out, here’s another favorite from my Christmas playlist: