Sunday, January 11, 2015

Kielbasa Eve

I spent most of the day on Christmas Eve cleaning and organizing the house for my mom. Since she was still recovering from surgery and recently retired, things are a bit in flux and so I wanted to make sure the house was ready and comfortable for Christmas day. My little sister had already gotten the tree and most of the decorations up, so my main job was... well, everything else. As the day waned on, I ran to yet another grocery store for even more final last minute necessities, and was at long last able to take a shower when my other sister arrived from work. Brother, sister-in-law, and baby nephew were en route from NYC, but of course Christmas Eve traffic was treacherous at best. Even so, we were all able to meet up on time and head to our annual Christmas Eve events.

Since as long as I can remember, Christmas Eve was always devoted to my father's side of the family. My parents have been divorced for over 20 years now, but even before their separation that was always the tradition. Christmas Eve with my father's family, Christmas Day with my mother's. Christmas morning was either at the house or split between the two, since my father and mother have always lived in the same city, more often than not only a street away from each other. At any rate, Christmas Eve has always been a magical time for me. As a child it was the beginning of the excitement, not yet marred by the deflation felt after presents are opened and you realize the holiday is almost over. My grandmother, and then my aunt after (both amazing women who have since passed on) frankly showered us with presents, and the food has remained delectable over the years. I only have two cousins on that side of the family, so the gathering is quite small compared to others, but we have always gotten along really well. My cousins are basically the exact opposite of me and my siblings. They studied math, computers, sciences, always remaining relatively rational and calm around the dinner table. My madcap little group, on the other hand, all studied theatre, art, music, and the like, never ceasing in our statements nor in our constant need to steal center stage. The reason why this creates such a peaceful exchange is that our cousins are more than happy to laugh in amusement when observing our endless shenanigans, while we sit in awe of their ability to be so grounded, gracious, and good. And of course, the centerpiece to it all. The glue that binds, the hinge that connects, the common cause of joy and beauty: kielbasa.

Per usual, when we walked into our relatives' house, we were greeted with the scents and smells of sumptuous Christmas fare, right along with the hello's and how are you's from the relatives themselves. We made our rounds to the two cousins, their significant others, their father, our other uncle, and my father and stepmother. Once that was over, the youngest of our clan proceeded to steal the stage and pretty much never give it back for the rest of the night. I was, however, given a very early place of honor when my cousin gave me a pink crown with the words "Kielbasa Queen" emblazoned on the front in silver glitter. Clearly they know me very well. Nephew was supposed to be the proud wearer of the blue king crown, but it was mainly passed around to various folk throughout the evening. I, on the other hand, wore mine proudly and distinctly the whole night through.

The traditional antics ensued, beginning with healthy servings of egg nog that my cousin is oh so talented at concocting. She also gave handsome nephew an ingenious toy called a surprise ball. It has many layers of streamer-like material which produce small trinkets as each layer is unraveled. This was the perfect distraction for young lad, as he was quite taken with the mountain of presents lingering under the tree. For dinner, we had endless supplies including but not limited to ham and potatoes, brussels sprouts, caramelized onions, and kielbasa kielbasa kielbasa. I had very little need for anything other than kielbasa and a nice glass of wine, but knew I had to mix it up at least a little.

After dinner it was present time, and none of us were disappointed. I realized before heading home, when talking to various students and French friends about their holiday traditions, that I am not only lucky but rather spoiled. No matter how old we get, we leave each and every Christmas function with a pirate's booty full of treats. The little one was in his element via gifts, sister was lounging in her Yule Log sweater, cousins were throwing wrapping paper around, and all was general merriment. Throughout most of the night, baby was also heading up a grand expedition to other rooms in the house. He had found some electric candles in the windows and was systematically inviting each and every memory of the household to accompany him on his journey to find a "spooky old turtle." Every once and a while, some duo would come pouncing into the living room in hot pursuit of their adventure.

In the end, we all sat down to some delicious dessert, in my case a bit of whiskey in my coffee, and a satisfied feeling of family and feast. It was a magical start to my Christmas celebrations and I feel so grateful that we were all able to carry on with such traditions, even if only once a year. Leftovers of kielbasa granted a place of honor in my bag, we headed home so that Santa Clause could make his merry way.

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