Monday, December 31, 2012

Christmases Old and New

It's hard to believe that after weeks (months?) of anticipation, Christmas has come and gone.  It is my favourite holiday, without question.  I look forward to it each year with a childlike excitement and this year was certainly no exception.  With a three-year-old in the house, the arrival of Santa increased the excitement ten-fold - I'm not sure who was more excited, C or her parents!

I've been pondering on Christmas as we get older.  How it changes - how it has to.  I find myself longing to preserve my family's traditions of Christmases gone by, but that isn't always possible.  When you share a life with someone else, it's important not only to integrate their traditions but to create new traditions of your own.  It can take some time to find that balance and it's something I still struggle with.  I am thankful for a patient and understanding partner in life.

Christmas in America is starkly different to the Irish and English Christmases I grew up with.  Not just with the physical traditions, but in how it feels.  In Ireland (and the UK), Christmas is almost palpable in the air.  When I walk outside on an Irish December day, even the air feels festive - the smell of peat fires and crisp, icy air.  The short days force street lamps and buildings to glow with soft light in the early evenings, homes look so inviting with their Christmas trees twinkling in the windows and chimney's billowing smoke from the cozy fires below.  Christmas lights strung high give the streets a sparkling glow which makes Christmas shopping out in the cold a pleasure rather than a chore.  When your nose and cheeks become crimson with the cold, a dip into a snug little pub for a glass of mulled wine or hot port is just the thing to warm your shivering body from the inside out.
Grafton Street, Dublin - Christmas 2010
Then there's the food.  Mince pies and Christmas puddings are the Irish answer to Christmas cookies.  When Santa visits Ireland he indulges in a mince pie and a glass of sherry, and Christmas morning must begin with a full Irish breakfast to get the day off to a good start. 
Our Full Irish Breakfast from this Christmas morning.
A big, glorious turkey with stuffing, gravy, roasties, and all the sides is as essential and traditional to the Irish population as a turkey on an American Thanksgiving Day.  Christmas crackers are pulled before the feast is begun and paper crowns are donned with laughter.  Wine flows and plates empty, leaving their owners full and happy.  Tins of Roses and selection boxes are are cracked open and devoured.
Christmas morning at my parent's house in Galway - 2009.
The country as a whole seems to embrace Christmas.  Almost all businesses close their doors from Dec 24 - January 2, forcing stressed out employees to really take a break and enjoy the season.  St. Stephen's Day, or Boxing Day as it is more commonly referred to over there, is like another holiday.  My family traditionally eats a cold salad with leftovers - turkey, potato salad, pork pies, sausage rolls, you name it.  And it is delicious.
This year's Boxing Day (St. Stephen's Day) Feast!
I keep trying to figure out why I feel so strongly attached to my family and culture's traditions.  Perhaps it's because they never varied for the first 24 years of my life.  Perhaps it's because almost everyone has the same traditions over there - they all eat and drinks the same thing, so a Christmas without turkey and all the trimmings to me is like a Thanksgiving without turkey and the trimmings for most of you.  That's as good of an analogy as I can come up with.

This year, as they did last year, my in-laws indulged me by preparing turkey as part of their Christmas dinner, something I really appreciate, especially as I know it's certainly not their first choice for Christmas!  We had a very multi-cultural Christmas dinner this year:  turkey breast, Moroccan lamb stew, Panama Chicken Rice - but we had a multi-cultural gathering, too, and it was lovely to incorporate so many different culinary traditions.

Despite clinging to my childhood Christmas customs, there are many American traditions I have embraced - Christmas cookies being one!  My mother-in-law and sister-in-law are master bakers, and chocolate peppermint cookies, butter balls, cranberry and white chocolate cookies, among others, are annual staples in their Christmas kitchens.  My husband spent many a Christmas Eve eating Curried Cream of Chicken Soup from the Silver Palate Cookbook, a tradition he loves and one I'd love to adopt as our own.  We've started to watch "The Shop Around The Corner" on Christmas Eve, as we did our first Christmas together, and P is most patient with the 10,000 Christmas movies I love to watch each year.
I re-introduced P to Raymond Briggs' The Snowman, an essential part of my Childhood Christmases, and in turn he introduced me to the hilarity of The Muppets Christmas Carol, Christmas Vacation, and A Christmas Story - all classics I missed out on growing up.
Like everything in a marriage, it's give and take - I have to let go of some of my old Christmas traditions and embrace new ones, and letting go is definitely not something that comes easy to me in any aspect of my life.  But in slowly letting go and embracing new traditions, I have found that our Christmases are even sweeter and more unique.  What I'm learning most, though, is that our little family being together is most important of all.  I missed being with my family as they were all together in Ireland, but being with my husband and daughter on Christmas morning and waking up, the three of us, to see C experience Santa's generous spirit was worth more than anything else put together.  I feel very blessed.

As this year draws to a close, I wish you all a healthy, happy and prosperous 2013.   I'll leave you with a traditional Irish and UK New Year's tradition - as the clock strikes midnight and we welcome the new year, cross your arms, join hands with your neighbors and sing:

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,

we'll take a cup of kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.