Monday, January 15, 2007

Christmas 2007

Christmas dinner in my family growing up usually meant that we would dine with someone from a foreign country. My mother’s solution to living 1,000’s of miles away from relatives on either side of our family was to invite over International students from the University where my father taught as an Organic Chemistry professor.

Inviting foreigners into our home to initiate them into an “American Christmas Dinner” you’d think my mother would have spent all day slaving over traditional dishes. Instead I seem to recall that she experimented a lot. Oyster stews, Sea food chowders, fondues, rice dishes with wild rice and cranberries and chicken in it. . . as my brother and I got older we began to request the things we knew our friends had grown up with: a turkey, a ham, some kind of stuffing. I think by that time (we were post undergrads then and had learned about the real world of Christmas dinner from being invited during our college years to our friends’ traditional sit down Christmas dinners with their families) it was just easier for my mother to have Dad pick up a smoked ham so finally, in our twenties our family's Christmas dinner matched the neighbors’.

When I married my husband and we moved to Australia we followed what the Brisbane locals told us was the normal fare for December the 25th-- fried chicken, potato salad and a barbecue on Christmas day. We celebrated with a Japanese family working for the same international University that my husband was working for. We settled around the barbeque for Christmas dinner at a local park with the kookaburras calling in the trees and the kids tossing bits of bread off the bridge to the frilled neck lizards, ducks and turtles in the stream. It was a beautiful hot summer day: the only attire my one year old daughter was wearing at the time was a diaper and a Santa hat.

When we relocated to Osaka , Japan I ate dinner with my daughter alone most Christmases as the 25th of December was a normal work day for my husband. But when I had my second daughter I started to feel like I needed some sort of “family dinner” to mark Christmas properly. By the time my kids were two and five I had given up on ever having a Daddy at the Christmas dinner table with us and so, my first real Christmas dinner as an adult was born. The fact that I was 37 at the time is just an incidental.

That year, I decided to do Christmas dinner with a friend and her two boys (aged 1 and 4) at my apartment in Osaka , Japan . Her Japanese husband was a doctor and had an even more demanding work schedule than my husband did at the time. She would do the turkey and the Christmas Cake and I would do the dinner rolls, cranberry sauce, hors d'oeuvres and the stuffing. I called my mother for my Grandmother’s dinner roll recipe and a week later nearly attacked a clerk in a local grocery store when I saw him carrying an American sized bag of fresh cranberries. He was about to divvy them up into little 100g bags for sale. I walked triumphantly home with the whole bag.

My friend kept me updated on the well fare and keep of her Christmas cake. I was fascinated with the whole idea and concept of a British Christmas Cake. This was not the Japanese Christmas cake―a flat white sponge cake with whip cream for frosting and strawberries teetering among chocolate Santas and Happy X-mas plaques on top. This was a real traditional British Christmas Cake--it was already months and months old! Each time she fed it some brandy my excitement mounted.

Then, in the two weeks before Christmas DD#1 got Influenza B and DD#2 got Influenza A. The following week they swapped. I got both strains as well. The two things that my refrigerator become stocked with were: suppositories, 1 type for anti-nausea and the other for lowering temperatures.

When my friend phoned on Christmas Eve to check if Christmas dinner was still on I swung open the refrigerator door, rifled through the contents of the side shelf and grasping my adult sized anti-nausea suppository confirmed that we were “on”.

Although the dinner rolls failed to rise properly they were deemed to be good despite their flattish shapes. The kids flew through their plates of turkey and cranberry sauce, gravy and stuffing. My kids happily ate the rock hard icing off their slices of Christmas Cake while my friend’s boys spurned their icing in favor of the fruit cake underneath. We topped them off with a dab of ice cream each. The magic of turkey and brandy drenched Christmas cake created a mellow group of children and two satisfied adults. It was the best Christmas dinner I had ever eaten.

This year, my husband was in hospital on the 25th. But the girls and I sat down to a turkey dinner, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. A Japanese fluff and no substance Christmas cake had snuck its way onto our holiday table. As I cut it my American heart yearned for that British fruit cake. Weeks later, long after the last of the turkey had gone, the wish bone had dried and been broken (Miss 8 won) my British friend arrived for a visit with her two boys (now 3 and 6!) and as she opened her suitcase and pulled out a tupperware I started to hear Christmas carols, on January 11th!

It wasn’t until late that evening, on January 11, 2007,with the children all finally asleep upstairs on their futons, that we sat down at my dinner table and over a slice of her Christmas Cake we talked and laughed and shared. Although it came on time, wrapped properly and cherished, met with joyous cries and squeals of excitement from my girls on the 25th, for me , it was on January 11th, late at night, with brandy soaked fruit cake sitting on a fork and a friend seated opposite me that Christmas arrived.


Oregon Friend said...

Hi! You probably don't remember me. A friend passed along your blog. Ive enjoyed reading so far. I have kept in contact with alot of Linfield people, including the friend who reccomended that I look at your blog. It is really interesting, after all these years, I didn't even know where you were living. Your Christmas blog was great. I just wish that youd remember your friends from college. I have three children myself and a good husband. Because of his work we have had to move around alot to different countries, but i have never forgotten my friends. I tried to reach you a few years ago but I never heard back. Don't you ever get lonely? Australia sounds nice, Japan sounds nice....but dont your ever thing of your sisters from college? AFter talking with are mutional friend, I jsut wanted to see if I could get in touch with you. Goodluck with the different foods you have to eat, good luck not smoking, good luck with your cats. A former Linfield Friend.

Vicky said...

I think that Christmas is whatever you make it. I had a good few lonely sad years here, wanting Christmas to be what I knew it to be, but of course it never did materialize and I was always disappointed and lonely. Like you when I had my kids I realised I had to make Christmas for them, and our own traditions are gradually building up. It is funny what the kids latch onto and want to keep as "their" traditions! In our family it is making the plasticy Japanese sponge cake together (yuk! but they like it) and Yorkshire pudding for dinner - they don't care about what else goes on the plate so long as that is there!

Trisha said...

I love the way that you write. You pulled me right in and held me until the very end. A great story! Thanks so much for visiting my blog. You are welcome back anytime.

deenster said...

Just dropped by after I saw a comment by you on another blog I read. Wow...great post! Looking forward to reading more.

coarse gold girl said...

Tricia and Deenster (and Vicki)
Thanks for reading! My blog's kind of different. . . more a collection of personal essays than a real dialy life kind of deal. I really enjoy reading about what life is like for other women here in the land of the rising sun! Thanks for your comments on my blog!

coarse gold girl said...

Oregon friend. . . who are you? I have been going nutty trying to figure it out. You tried to reach me a few years ago? In Japan? Sorry to have missed you--I get soooooo excited when I do get an opportunity to hook up with friends from overseas! Or with friends from here locally for that matter! Lonely? Of course! And thanks for the good luck with eating different foods. . . but what I really need is good luck with NOT eating so much food (American, Japanese, Thai, Mexican, basically--FOOD)! I'm a bigger woman than I was when you knew me for sure! But so far I am still smoke free in 2007!
Have you visited Linfield in the past few years? I hear that it has really grown and changed. . . would love to get back one day and walk around the campus again and relieve the old days!

Thanks for visiting my blog! Hope to see you here again!