Christmas

placesetting.jpgEver since reading Rousseau’s On the Origin of Language, the idea of the origin myth has compelled me to wonder at the root of things. I treasure the O.E.D., find it fascinating that Hammer Pants were born out of misread lyrics during development of the U Can’t Touch This video, and relish in the ongoing debate over how the Caesar salad came to be.

As with the Caesar salad, I’m intrigued by things with no definite origin – thereby inviting invention – like how Rousseau posits that language originated with a boy wanting to talk to a girl while collecting water for their respective families.

In this fashion, I’m incited to uncover, or create the origin of one side of my family’s Dungeness Crab Christmas Eve tradition. But first it’ll help if I briefly explain my family, and my relationship to Christmas.

Suffice to say my family fits well into the postmodern framework: fractured, multiple centers, consider any single member and you’ll discover a constellation of relationships. So I’ll leave it at this: a name means as much as a title. I have parents and siblings.

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peanut butter fudgeThere's no better time of year to bless the ties that bind. Holidays are about traditions, and the very definition of tradition is "an inherited or customary pattern of thought, belief or action" --- those ideas and rituals, large and small, passed on from generation to generation.

For me, it just isn't Christmas without one good carol singing (in Atlanta, I like to go to jazz vespers at First Congregational Church downtown in early December), without my pink rabbit's foot dangling from a lower branch on my tree and without Mammaw's peanut butter fudge.

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pizzelle1.jpgMy grandmother, Nan, loved to receive shirt boxes at Christmas every year. Not shirts, just the boxes. After Christmas, my mom and I would bring them over her house, where she would stack them in a closet, then insist we sit down at the kitchen table and have something to eat.

Wondering what she did with all those boxes? She used them store her pizzelle cookies. She needed a lot of boxes because she made a lot of pizzelles – for birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. It's not just my grandmother, all Italians enjoy them for celebrations.

Pizzelles are round Italian waffle-like cookies made from flour, sugar, eggs, and butter and are typically flavored with anise or vanilla. The name pizzelle comes from the Italian pizze, meaning "flat" or "round."

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christmaspudding.jpgIf you have any Canadian friends who are good cooks, they can sometimes go to the effort to recreate dishes often referred to in Christmas Carols. Its that whole British thing and  “Hey, I’m a Royal Subject, eh?” But after Pfeffernusse, Sugar Cookies, Flaming Plum and Figgy Pudding, parties with lavish cheese plates and the holiday Honeybaked Ham, I get a little toxic.

I start to crave more than your every day palate cleanser. It’s more like a yen for a culinary high colonic. A clean fresh salad is what my body calls for and I’m always amazed when this happens.

When my kids were young and I’d fret about not being able to get them to eat enough vegetables and fruit, or protein, the ‘experts’ would invariably assure me in that annoyingly supercilious New Age Parenting tone that “They’ll just naturally take the nutrition their bodies need.” Yeah, that was some bullshit. Like they’d just select the carrots and celery from a table with the big bowl of Cheetos.

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lattdad.jpgI associate mail order food with my father.  When I was growing up, he and I had very few connections.  He took me to only one professional football game.  He never came to Back-to-School Night and had no interest in any of my hobbies.  I remember him as dour, not very talkative and disapproving.  I was part of his second family and he was, I’m certain, just a bit too old to have a young kid running around. 

Added to that, my father was burdened by tragedy.  He was the eldest son of a prosperous Jewish family in Odessa on the Black Sea.  Unfortunately when the Russian Revolution swept across the country, Bolsheviks rampaged through his neighborhood, lining up and shooting many people, including my father’s family.  Being Jewish and well-to-do were two strikes too many at a time when “line them up against the wall” was taken literally.

Luckily for my father, when all this happened, he was studying at the University of Kiev.  He learned later that his mother had survived because she had very thick hair.  When she was shot at point blank range, the gunpowder was apparently so weak that the bullet merely lodged in her hair, knocking her unconscious and otherwise leaving her unharmed. My father never returned home to Odessa, having been told that he needed to flee the country, which he promptly did.

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