The Christian Christmas story holds many messages. One I like is that it’s full of allegories, one of which is about the star and guiding lights, not about the birth of an infant. The star in the sky is the star of the story: it pointed the way and shone brightly to make sure the three kings/wise men, or whomever, did not go astray.
How that translates to modern life is always apparent to me, when our family gathers for the Christmas holidays. As time has passed, we’ve all grown older, inevitably, and children are now parents and have their children, etc. As we congregate under a few roofs, for a few weeks, we get to do lots of things together, including sharing memories and carrying on traditions. Here’s where the light starts to shine.
As ‘grandma’ grows older and is less able to do what she did in previous years, others have to step in. As it was when her parents aged and their abilities waned. It’s a part of life. Now, her children can take the lead in food preparations, especially, but also in the trappings of Christmas, which she holds dear, and others do, too, as constants in their lives. It’s not about critiquing grandma’s choices and tastes. Her table cloths and wreaths and lights the manger displays, etc. are what make her house ‘Christmassy’, and if they were not there, something seriously wrong was affecting the world.
But, eating is a big part of Christmas traditions and certain food must be done ‘right’. Now, all the daughters are not are happy in all aspects of cooking, and that’s no problem. At least, they have some skills, even if it’s just that of organizing the buying or arranging others to do what they do best, by way of cooking.
They all now have children and they should now understand that for things to go on ‘normally’ they have to learn the arts and tricks. Tastebuds are not passed down through the DNA chains; they are developed by the sampling through the years. “It doesn’t taste right” is that the same as it doesn’t taste good: ‘right’ can be that it doesn’t have enough pepper for the levels of acceptable tastes in the extended household.
So, I’ve been gladdened to see our daughter getting up to her elbows in learning how to cook grits, make bread and make macaroni cheese. If she chips in for three recipes are year, the very least, she’ll have armed herself to be able to please her own palette and change those of her friends.
This is not the time to debate the important differences between how food is prepared in different places, and it’s an unending are of discussion even in the limited sphere of the Caribbean. We know ‘peas and rice’ (Bahamian) is not the same as ‘rice and peas’ (Jamaican). Some people cannot eat the former without coleslaw; others would never dream of having that anywhere near either rice dish.
But, when the holiday is over, it’ll be great to look back on the creations (some of which may still be around and available to travel to other homes, and tickle tongues for a few more days). That lemon curd cheesecake and coconut bread may now be a staple for the table of future Christmases. They will take their place with traditional baked ham with lemon and mustard glaze and cloves. They will fight for space with turkey well-seasoned with a hint of pepper that makes the eyes pops, with stuffing (not dressing). The homemade baked beans are never bad, but the taste is hard to get exactly the same each year. Sweet potato casserole with walnuts is that delicate sweet side dish that just tips the scale towards fabulous. The scale moves a notch further to amazing once the tartness of those home-prepared cranberries in a sauce, cooked simply with water and sugar. (Dare I suggest a dash or rum wouldn’t go amiss?)
In many Caribbean homes, gravy is never a part of a meal. If food needs moistures, it should be there in the succulence of the meat; things need no drenching. (Now, I like gravy, after years of living in England; believe me, though, that gravy in a Caribbean home is not bland-tasting, as its base is from juices dripping from a piece of meat well-seasoned).
My mother said “Never leave certainty for uncertainty,” meaning don’t leave home without eating something. The exception to that rule is Christmas Day, when one can head off to dinner, with a truly empty stomach without fear that ‘uncertainty’ would be anything other that wonderful. That said, we always have a good Christmas breakfast, albeit 6-9 hours earlier, so it’s as if we’d not eaten 🙂
There is no verdict to be handed down about Christmas dinner or the holiday, overall, expect that it’s a pity it’s really just once a year. But, we also know that the spirit of Christmas is, sadly, not something that lasts 365 days a year. Now, should I advocate for ‘Christmas’ to be made a weekly event?