Christmas Eve is the more celebrated day in European families, even those residing in North America. Back when I was a child, my family would make the trip out to Northern Toronto on December 23 or 24 to buy our Christmas tree. It was tradition not to set up the tree until the day of Christmas Eve (although JT and I have been known to get our tree in late November!). Even though it was late by North American standards and the trees were pretty well picked over, we always managed to find a good one (not an easy task in a family of tree connoisseurs). One year the best tree (read fattest) was so short, we had to put it on a table. Mom said it was so more presents could fit under the tree. The only thing Dad did with the tree is put the lights on it. The lights would only be turned on to make sure they were evenly distributed and then they wouldn’t be turned on until later that night. Mom, my younger brother and I would always dress the tree. My favourite part was adding the tinsel after all the gorgeous hand blown glass balls (and various kid craft ornaments) were hung; my brother would throw the tinsel on by handful and I would carefully add them one tinsel strand at a time. The tree wouldn’t be complete without adding szalonczukor, a traditional Hungarian fondant candy that my Aunt and Uncle would send every year from Budapest. We also had candy canes but that was later as we became more Canadianized.
Christmas Eve was our big celebration and we would always have a huge dinner (Mom would make fish and turkey with all the fixings) and then after dinner (which seemed to take F O R E V E R) we’d be sent off to our rooms to see if we could see Santa in the skies because we’d follow him through NORAD! During that time Santa would arrive quite quietly and fill the floor beneath the tree with gifts. So many gifts. Then, Mom and Dad would turn off all the lights and illuminate the tree, Dad would put on on some Christmas music (a special mix he made on the Sony reel to reel) and they would signal my brother and I (and usually some stray my Mom invited for dinner) to come out of our room into the living room. That was our Christmas. I can still feel that nervous energy and the excitement of the anticipation as we walked down the hall into the living room, our eyes bugged open to take in the view of our beautifully lit Christmas tree and piles and piles of presents! We would always start out opening presents systematically but by the end it was always chaos. At some point Mom would serve dessert, a traditional Yule log (piskota), both walnut and poppy seed Baigli! She also made a Lindzer Szelet which was my Dad’s favourite (a tender pastry square with a layer of apricot jam and sometimes chocolate ganache). Cognacs would be poured (for the adults) and my brother and I would lose ourselves in the bounty of all our new toys and have an impromptu fashion show off all our new clothes (well, maybe that was just me). Family friends always popped in after dinner after the mess was cleaned up, more desserts were served and more cognac was poured. It truly was magical.
On Christmas Day, my brother and I would open our stockings and we would continue to play with our new things while Mom made a beautiful breakfast with kuglof and home made jam. Christmas Day was usually quiet at our house, we hung around in our jammies, played, watched a Christmas movie or two and just chilled. We were always invited to my parents’ best friends for Christmas Day dinner.
JT’s and my Christmas took on a similar landscape with the exception that on Christmas Eve we always go to my brother’s for dinner because they have kids. Lately, they been having a ham for dinner so we’re not eating turkey two days in a row (honestly, I don’t mind two turkey dinners). I usually bake a Yule log and a plate of Christmas cookies to share. This year I’ve baked a white chocolate and strawberry tart that I’m recipe testing. My brother’s family celebrate a more traditional North American Christmas (with her family) with the major festivities on the morning of the 25th and dinner with her family in the afternoon, which works out perfectly since JTs family does the same so we’ve never had a conflict. Today we’ll have JTs family over for our turkey dinner, complete with stuffing, roast potatoes, gravy and green beans with garlic and almonds. Dessert will be pie that my SIL brings as well as a cheesecake thing that I’m recipe testing. So tell me, how does your family celebrate Christmas and is it the 24th or the 25th?
It’s been a whirlwind year and I must admit that December snuck up on me and I feel like I’m behind. But the next few days will be all about family, relaxing and just enjoying the festivities. JT and I wish you all the best, a very merry Christmas and a safe and Happy New Year!