Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Eve

A day when momentum builds. So it's good to start slowly. Maybe taking your breakfast to bed?

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Then draw in a deep breath and head out.

It's a huge dance, this wonderful day of Christmas Eve and every step has to be choreographed so that the entirety flows forward smoothly, as if on its own, as if it was meant to be, even though really, it is aided by the work of many, toward that one goal of coming together, joyously, to repeat traditions, to take note of the specialness of this time, this day, this Christmas Eve.

My own string of errands starts with a trip to the other side of town to the bakery that has Madison's very best bread. The line is already long. Of course. It's the crucial part of a good meal.


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Then, the grocery store. This could have been done the day before, but there is something important about bringing home the food on this day. As if I'm saying -- here, this is how we do Christmas Eve. With food for the table.

And now we all arrive at my older girl's home. She, her sister, their guys -- all drove up from Chicago this morning and I breathe a sigh of relief that they're all here, that the roads weren't nearly as icy as we'd been warned, that we were able to find this time together on what has always been for us the best part of Christmas -- the Eve.

We open presents and again -- a sigh of relief: that the suitcase came, that I had time to wrap and place the boxes to join those from them underneath the tree. Because despite Ed's skepticism about the whole enterprise, gift giving is a huge part of this day for us: the sharing, the thoughtfulness, the accounting for the other -- it all matters. Indeed, it all is heartwarmng and beautiful and we take the time now to study each person's gift to the other, listening to the stories behind it, letting the one who receives it admire it or simply leaf through it, feel the fabric, think of a future use.


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After, I retreat to the kitchen, finish off sauces and veggies for what is perhaps the simplest of all our celebratory meals: a dinner of beef fondue. No one else I know does this for Christmas Eve, but I started this tradition decades ago (my daughters regard the paperback fondue cookbook that I use as very 70s retro, with good reason! It was purchased then!). I needed something regally simple -- to preserve my sanity in the face of a cooking marathon that had me preparing four separate and important meals: Christmas Eve, Christmas breakfast, Christmas lunch and Christmas dinner. And the fondue stuck and now it's firmly in place and it's the one time in the year that I fuss with a meal that centers around beef.

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The fondue forks are color coded, but we have various mismatched forks and it's all very confusing and we mix them up again and again and sometimes the meat falls off and we all hunt for it there in the small pot in the center...

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Eating in this way takes time. You can't rush fondue. And that, too, is wonderful.

Ed joins us for dessert (there he is, sitting in the corner pretending that the holidays are a figment of someone else's imagination, even as he would have to acknowledge that the joy is very real)...

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... a dessert that is a simple and simply delicious ice cream float prepared by those who know how to bring the good flavors of oatmeal stout and vanilla ice cream together.

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And so it ends, this beautiful Eve. One couple goes off to church, another couple packs the car and drives north to visit (his) family there and Ed and I return to the farmhouse. If I had thoughts of watching a movie or writing here, on Ocean, those thoughts had to be adjusted as I cannot stay awake. Later, in the middle of the night, in that time between Eve and Day, I take a pause from sleep and as I write here, I think back and think ahead and I allow myself that moment of deep contentment that comes when you know that the ones you love are happy.

And I can take the time now to wish all my readers here, on Ocean, that same happiness -- on this day and in the days that follow. Be merry or quiet, whatever suits your temperament or inclination and be cheered by the love of family, friends, pets if you have pets! (Isis, are you listening?) Joy is a good thing to have in your back pocket. May you have a big chunk of it there today!