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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Good Traditions

I have lived in several different places - Tenterden, Kent, the place where I was raised and lived and worked until I was 25. Lake Stevens, WA, the place I lived for 8 and a half years during my first marriage. Various neighboring towns in the Gainesville area of Northeast Georgia, the place where I spent the bulk of my second marriage. Each place you live and set of people you live with have their own traditions - either ones that are old and have been handed down through the years from generation to generation, or the relatively new ones that you or your loved ones have started. And if you're a pretty well-travelled person like myself who cannot shake the habit of making friends everywhere they go (for better or worse), you seem to pick up other people's habit and traditions as and when the mood strikes.

As you may or may not have noticed, we are about a week away from the Big Day, El Navidad, the Head Honcho of all the other holidays. A day that is positively soaked, like trifle sponges imbued with sherry, with traditions. I love them all. Caroling, tree-trimming, mince pies...

When I was living in Lake Stevens we would usually go up to La Conner to spend Christmas with my in-laws. My mother-in-law had so many traditions that I just fell in love with. Like her annual Christmas party, a week or two before Christmas, when she would pick a different culture's cuisine every year to entertain her guests' palates with. One year it was Scandinavian, the next African. And she would have us over a week or so before the party to bake up tons of nibbles for the event. One year I remember spending a lot of time encasing olives in a cheese-straw-like dough.

As well as the party, there was the Christmas Mush. Ah, the Christmas Mush... those words just make me drool. I loved it so much I would make it myself every year during my second marriage.

What you do is to take about 1 cup of rice and combine it with 6 cups of milk (whole milk is best) in a heavy pan with a lid or a slow-cooker (crockpot). Cook it on low, I mean really low, stirring occasionally, for about 4-6 hours or until it is nice and thick, but not yellow. Serve in a bowl with a knob of butter or a dash of cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon and brown sugar. To me it's not Christmas Eve without some mush!

Christmas Eve traditions continued with the filling up of everyone's stockings with little, uh, stocking-fillers such as miniatures of port, little books, puzzles, just cool little doo-dads and such after all the others were snug abed. It was always fun to eat a Christmas breakfast of cheesy potato casserole and a big iced wreath-shaped bun thingy that Joanne (ma-in-law) would always get from The Calico Cupboard in downtown La Conner. It was drizzled with sugary icing and candied peel... we'd sit there pulling all the goodies from our stockings and munching, very relaxed, just perfect, with a view of the water outside the back window.

One of the funnest things I ever did at a Christmas gathering (not sure if it was a tradition, but it would be fun to make it traditional) was when I went to a holiday party at my friend Nigel's grandparents' house.  As soon as we stepped through the door we were handed a piece of red yarn and instructed to follow it to its end. Trouble was, it was entwined throughout the house with everyone elses' piece of red yarn, in and out of all the rooms, inbetween the banisters, until finally one found the end, tied around a boxed miniature bottle of either Scotch, Sherry, Port, Gin or whatever... a fun icebreaker, if a little complicated, but it kept everyone out of the kitchen while the cooking was going on!

Another thing I once did that would be nice as a tradition was when I went with my family on a church bus, stopping at various nursing homes and neighbourhoods and singing carols... it really only works if you are not self-conscious, don't care about whether you're in tune, and give it your all, with some serious gusto. It was cold, and the bus was not the most comfortable in the world, but we gave it some stick! It was quite magical.

So I guess you could say, that when it comes to Christmas, I love all that schmaltz and romantic atmosphere. I love Nat King Cole and Dean and Der Bingle and Mel Torme. This is my time. Bring it on!

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