Monday, December 28, 2009

What's in your hand? Post-Christmas thoughts, and memories

As I was saying in a previous post, everyone's idea of Christmas is different. And there are also so many combinations of people, houses and events that your ideas of what you DO on Christmas can also be very different--and can change rapidly from one year to the next. I never "spent" Christmas (as in "slept over") at someone else's house, but we spent most of our young-years Christmases being trotted from one relative's house to another, joining in with one aunt and uncle's plum pudding and gifts here, with another person's holiday-in-a-glass there (we didn't get any of that, if you're wondering), and with my grandparents' potluck-and-turkey to end off the day: think Whoville for that last one. Think noise noise noise noise, Dah Hoo Dor-Aze (can't spell that) and roast beast. I totally related to those scenes from The Grinch.

For years there was even a brunch at another aunt's house, although that eventually got moved to Boxing Day. My grandparents had a New Year's Eve card party for their friends (and usually kept us there overnight so that my parents could go out). And the country cousins had a big family dinner on New Year's. So although I remember my mother making all kinds of holiday preparations (baking like crazy), and my dad doing most of the decorating, I don't remember them ever actually hosting The Dinner on one of the actual holidays. In other words, I didn't get much practice at it.

And now it's up to us most years--not a very big dinner, only a few guests (sometimes only one, more often three), but we still want to make it special. Because it's fairly small, some of our preparations and ideas can wait until the last minute--we're not making forty napkin rings or anything. And I've found--because our Christmas Days tend to be kind of quiet anyway--that I actually enjoy leaving some of the table decorating and even crafting until the Day Of. (Did any of you ever watch a Rankin-Bass Christmas special with the song "Save a Little Christmas for Christmas?")

This year, a couple of days before Christmas, I pulled out a thrift-shopped copy of Corinne Clawson's Holiday Orna-gami, a small paperback that includes several bound-in squares of holiday-coloured paper for folding. I pulled out the yellow squares and tried the star in the book--not bad. The other sheets were a sort of dull green and red that tweaked vague memories of Christmases around 1971, in the era of lick-and-stick Christmas stickers (we used to put them all over tissue-paper-wrapped canned goods to go under a tree at church), crepe-paper-wrapped crackers with paper hats (I think they banged better than this year's dollar-store version), and mod-looking greeting cards. Maybe it was just that we'd been working on restoring the 1972 Crissy doll for Crayons, or that I knew Mr. Fixit had also bought the Squirrelings some vintage Hot Wheels tracks (we already have the cars), or maybe it was that 1973 magazine that Crayons had brought home from the thrift shop (maxi skirts, rick rack, styrofoam and metallic sunbursts)...but somehow my mind was back there with those colours from a time before laser printers, when church bulletins were hand-typed and Gestetnered, and posters were lettered with markers and stencils.

Is all that too much to fit into a few squares of paper? Or was it the other way around...anyway, I started folding those sheets into small baskets, and remembered that I'd bought tiny chocolate bars and Swedish berries to fill them. Those became our table favours.

On Christmas, when I was cleaning up used and unused gift wrap, I noticed that we still had quite a long piece of unused wrap in some of those same vintage-looking reds and greens: have you ever noticed that some of the Made-in-Wherever dollar store wrap looks like that anyway? It might be the lead paint (joking)...anyway...the paper was decorated with the word "Noel," and it gave me an idea. I covered our long table with an off-white table cloth (and the card table we use as an extension with a red plastic cloth), and rolled out the gift wrap down the table. The Apprentice fixed the paper to the cloth with some fix-your-dress-strap tape she had (it came in a vintage-looking package, which seemed appropriate), and we added our regular dinner plates (our good ones had too much pink in them), red paper napkins, the red and green baskets, and gold-and-cream party crackers. Not bad.

We still needed a centerpiece, but that wasn't hard. We put the candle jar we'd made in the middle of the table (remember we filled in between the jars with gold wire-type tinsel?), and The Apprentice took her pliers (all girls should have pliers) and twisted and hot-glued some more of that gold tinsel into a couple of groovy-looking little Christmas tree shapes, to flank the big jar.

And that was our Merry Christmas table: 1971 meets 2009.

Oh--you wanted to know what we had to eat? Turkey (and tofurkey for the vegetarians), mashed potatoes, canned cranberry sauce, frozen green and yellow beans (Europe's Best brand tastes better than fresh this time of year), crockpot stuffing, rolls, salads and pies brought by the guests, and a cookie plate. We were going to have homemade vanilla ice cream, but the cream turned out to be bad at the last minute so that was scrapped. But nobody minded much.

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