Ah, Christmas Eve. The most won-der-ful tiiiiiiiiiiiiime of the year ...
I think my brother—along with most people in our hometown—would agree: our family’s annual Christmas Eve Open House was always the Best Party Ever. No contest. It seemed like every single person we knew and loved joined us for our festive bash. The rooms were filled with laughter and lively chatter, with carols tinkling in the background and the aroma of decadent, wonderful food filling our noses. When I talk about Christmases past, it's not the turkey, or the carols, or the presents that come to mind (although I do remember seeing Santa right in my own living room one year) ... it's the magnificent glory of the Night Before Christmas. All thanks to Mom.
My mom, who channels Martha Stewart for any occasion ("Happy Tuesday!"), would work overtime at least two weeks in advance as the host of this holiday extravaganza. With lists in hand (of which there were several versions, rewritten daily), Mom aimed for perfection and got it ... with some help from a reluctant, grumpy teenager, an all-too-eager elf with OCD and a husband who did his best to stay out of the way. But let's be honest, she did most of the work.
The linens were pressed and the hand-crafted placecards were neatly arranged at each setting. Every surface, window and side table was laden with candles, pinecones and fresh evergreen boughs -- all colour-coordinated, of course. The good silverware was polished, the Depression glass dessert plates and sporks were all carefully arranged. The baking, the cooking, the cleaning, the decorating, the swearing, the yelling, the bloodshed ...
All this lead up to a spectacular, sumptuous feast, perfectly arranged and decorated in her perfectly arranged and decorated home.
On Christmas Eve, while the pots burbled on the stove and the tree sparkled with individually-hung strands of tinsel, we got all gussied up and toddled off to church, while visions of crab spread, artichoke dip and sauerkraut danced in our heads. Mom was resplendent, as always, in her finery, hair neatly coiffed and positively oozing the image of the perfect hostess. Martha, eat your heart out.
Once home, Mom would don an appropriately festive apron, Dad would ready the bar, and the door would open to the first of a (very) long line of guests. Glasses of cheer were passed around and we gorged ourselves on an endless procession of smoked oysters, Clams Casino, peel n' eat shrimp, meatballs, and about a dozen different kinds of cheese and crackers. And shortbread, fruitcake, rum balls, cherry cake ... Occasionally, there would be the odd guest who actually had the decency to bring a potluck contribution, but on the whole, Mom was the conductor of this culinary orchestra.
And at 3 am, when the last of our over-stuffed guests would roll themselves out the door, there she’d be, at the sink washing up the dishes (by hand) … then filling the stockings … then putting out the gifts … then prepping tomorrow’s meal …
It’s no wonder she looked so relieved the year we all went out for Chinese food instead. But those sure were some good times. Thanks, Mum.
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