Welcome to December.
I am not going do indulge myself this year in my annual rant about the behemoth of marketing and capitalism that wraps itself up as Christmas. Nor will I go on and on about the fact that the first signs of Christmas now appear just after HALLOWEEN. Less is more folks. Really. But I promised not to rant. So I won't.
Instead, here is my own personal pipe-dream of a Christmas that exists mostly in my head. You are all invited to share your own holiday pipe dreams as well. Don't feel confined to Christmas. Any holiday will do. After all is said and done, they really do begin to look a lot alike, a mish mash of cultures and customs of days gone by. Christmas is really an essentially pagan holiday at it's roots, (before Jesus came into the picture) a holiday conveniently acquired by Christians of old to help stamp out the old pagan celebrations. Religious and non-religious fantasies (agnostic, here) are welcome. So let the holiday pipe-dreams commence.
Thanksgiving is over, and I walk with my family under starry skies. We are far enough out of the city to see constellations. In a few weeks, houses will begin to twinkle with their own stars. The sun disappears too early for many to enjoy the afternoon rays, so up go the lights...icicles, and wreaths, and wrapped trees. Candles warm windowsills. Neighborhoods shine, and chase away the depressing knowledge that it will be dark for a good long while before the sun returns.
On December 1rst, we set up the advent calender. It is made of wood...a winter forest with lots of animals and a curious little house with glowing windows. No candy or toys inside, just beautiful little pictures. I've always liked advent calenders. They create a wonderful sense of anticipation, kind of like an egg timer for the holidays.
December 5th, Saint Nicholas Eve. Dr. Science and I help the Impling find her old klompjes. I set up a little centerpiece on the table. Wooden shoes filled with hay and a carrot for the Saint's horse. Water in an ornate glass. A big red candle to light the way. The flame casts a warm light over the glass and golden wood of the shoes. A poem sits beneath the glass, a collaborative effort until the Impling can write her own. It is a wish list for Christmas.
In the morning, the glass will be empty, the hay and carrot will have mysteriously vanished. The poem has also vanished, but the wooden shoes are now filled and surrounded by rolls of sweet tarts, chocolate letters, speculaas and stroopwafels. A small toy peeks from behind the pillar candle.
For the next few weeks, life goes on as usual. Here and there little embellishments and decorations begin to appear. Shops begin to play carols, and decorate their windows. The most I do is purchase a few things, mostly for the Impling, as Dr. Science and I don't gift each other. I send pictures of the Impling to all our friends and relatives, and keep a steady supply of hot chocolate and peppermint Jo Jo's on hand. And dark chocolate caramels. I might feel ambitious enough to bake butter cookies, or gingerbread, or not. I will if I feel like it. It is enough to smell cider warming on the stove top, fragrant with cinnamon and cloves. Sometimes I will drink it steaming with a good splash of dark rum and a knob of butter. We listen to carols on the radio...Bing, and Nat, all the good old tunes. We enjoy the anticipation of good things to come.
Ah, the presents. No wrapping paper to be seen, just wonderful glittering boxes that are used year after year, much the same way the ornaments are used. Some of them are old friends. Every year they are dressed up with extravagant bows, and every year they look tantalizing. They have to. Most of them will be opened over the course of twelve days.
Christmas Eve, we bring home a tree. A beautiful, fragrant balsam that freshens the whole house. The night's entertainment is decorating it, listening to King's College choir, eating junk food. There is, of course, a roaring fire. We roast hot dogs and cheese and marshmallows. Not necessarily in that order. After the Impling goes to bed (cookies and milk left in generous quantities), Dr. Science and I watch Tokyo Godfathers, feast on the cookies and milk, and get to bed at a reasonable hour after setting up all the presents, and filling the stockings. We leave the Christmas tree lights on.
Christmas dawns. By the time it does, the Impling has already been up for ages. She bounces into our bedroom, climbs up, and plops down between us. She eventually falls asleep for a short while, then awakes and starts waving her hands in the air and singing her own little songs until we all wake up. We have a leisurely morning watching the Impling open her gifts. We build another fire, turn on some early morning music, Vivaldi, or a Bach Christmas cantata or something. We eat fresh cinnamon rolls and drink chocolate and mocha and perhaps a mimosa or so. The kitchen, of course, is all ready for me to start cooking the feast.
This is the part I love. I love my chef's knife, a big roasting pan, and plenty of wine to baste with and drink. During the next twelve days, we eat all our favorite feasting foods, turkey, goose, tarragon chicken, roast beef, roasted potatoes, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash soup, fresh greens with sugared almonds and mandarin slices, cranberry relish with ginger and oranges, acorn squash stuffed with wild rice, hazelnuts and cranberries, oyster stews, oysters on the half shell, huge pots of mussels cooked in wine and garlic, a decadent yule log cake, pies of all kinds for breakfast lunch and dinner. There are three major feasts. Christmas (goose) New Years (roast beef), and Twelfth Night (anything and everything). I never have to clean up afterwards. I just sit by the fire with a good book, a glass of port, and a little dish of Colston Bassett.
On Twelfth Night, we have a costume party. A huge themed blow out for all our friends. We all look forward to this one last bash...wassail and dancing and games and eating until, at last, the festivities are over. Decorations are quickly packed away, the mistletoe and ivy and holly returned to the earth. The tree comes down with some relief, and is mulched. The lights stay up in various configurations in the windows to brighten the remaining winter until the end of February. But just the clear lights. Colored lights are just for Christmas.