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It’s complicated – but it’s Christmas

Posted in Food, Life & Love, and Relationships

Home Baked Christmas mince pies
Home Baked Christmas mince pies

From sofagirl: Christmas in Cape Town

The best thing about Christmas this year was my nephew singing as he walked around the house. The ‘la-la-la-la-la’ we heard wasn’t a carol or hymn. It was joy popping out of his subconscious and winking at us all. We’d opted for a brunch as our family has some of the usual complications and some others less so, and it seemed best to celebrate and then to cut everyone free to do what they wanted to … swim, surf, lie on the sofa, watch reruns … snack.

Traditionally we have always celebrated Christmas en masse. Whoever was around was welcome. As children we would travel across the country – stopping to eat mince-pies and sandwiches on the side of the road. Fighting in the back of the car if a sibling breathed on us. And 15 dusty hours later: finally arriving in East London, where our parents were born, to joins scores of relatives.

Hubbly BubblyOur Uncle Raymond was a real card. He believed that our Christmas tree should be stolen and every year we kids would get in the back of his pick-up truck and head out across the town to find some unsuspecting tree, trimmed or no, to carry triumphantly home. We’d arrive back, late for supper and dive into sandwiches and Hubbly Bubblys drunk icy cold, straight from the bottle. The women would cook, the men would arrange furniture and drink beer and the kids would be in and out of the pool. And when it was eventually served, lunch would be a long, raucous affair lasting well into the night. Next day would be down to the beach for a picnic of leftovers and swims. And the nursing of manly hangovers.

Time and distance changed all that and I’ve celebrated Christmas in various parts of the world – Sydney in a heat wave with a new-friend who rescued me from a difficult situation, New York with my brother and the most expensive turkey breast in the world. London with other expats and family, the Caribbean with assorted stateless individuals.

When the Nephew and Nieces were born, Christmas became all about being around them. About re-creating the fantasy of our own childhoods. So we’d leave a beer for Father Christmas, bake mince pies, roast a turkey and pull crackers. Christmas was now about maintaining a sense of togetherness, despite the distances between us: about being family.

IMG_8791Everyone lingered today… we drank watermelon bellinis and mimosas.  Ate Christmas sausage and gammon, dipped our ciabatta in steamed eggs and roast tomatoes, opened presents and wore silly hats. We argued and mocked our way through a game of 30 seconds and illegally retrieved a water bomb from next door’s garden – bypassing their alarm. It felt like a simpler version of long ago.

And then everyone went their separate ways. We cleared up the mounds of paper and did the washing up – and it was all over for another year. As the kids got into the car I hear Jasper sing his ‘la-la-la’ again – and this time the girls joined in.

From camparigirl: Christmas in Los Angeles

This year the theme was red
This year the theme was red

The reindeer decorations on Rodeo Drive struck me as positively weird. The sun was shining, I was wearing a cotton shirt and it didn’t feel like Christmas at all.

I moved to LA on a foggy December day in 1995. With a new job and a new life to worry about, going back to Italy for the holidays was unthinkable so my mother and my boyfriend at the time, whom I had left behind for what I thought would be a three-year assignment, flew over to cheer my Christmas vacation up.

With all my furniture travelling in a ship container and not expected to arrive until March, my whitewashed Santa Monica apartment boasted two futon mattresses on the floor, one tv and one phone, also on the floor, two bar stools so I could eat at the kitchen counter and four plastic chairs on the patio, inherited from a kind neighbour . My mother, undeterred and determined to cook a Christmas meal, walked around the neighbourhood until she spotted a Salvation Army store and returned triumphantly carrying an awful coffee table we could sit around cross-legged, and enjoy her lasagna on. It was a strange Christmas indeed.

The Tree, with 20 years worth of ornaments (or those that survived)
The Tree, with 20 years worth of ornaments (or those that survived)

It took me years to find my Los Angeles Christmas tradition. While still working in the music business, I would fly home and return to the cold, the snow, hurrying home under myriad lights that shone so much brighter against the backdrop of a perpetually miserable and dark sky. Then I got married into a Jewish family who, understandably, never celebrated Christmas, and I was on my own. In a way, it was vaguely liberating as I could make up my traditions as I went along. Next to a menorah stood my proud tree. A lunch menu was tweaked over the years, gifts were unwrapped, usually under a splendid sun and mild temperatures. Nothing, though, seemed to match the Christmas shindigs I grew up with: food to last two weeks, children running around, multiple tables, noise and heavy bellies by 4 in the afternoon, somehow ready to eat again at 8.

And my mother’s fabled tortellini. To taste Annarosa’s tortellini is to be inducted into a very privileged and sacred society – made with pork, prosciutto, mortadella and Parmesan of the finest quality, shaped like tiny little navels, they will forever drive you from any other. She makes enough for 30 people every Christmas, setting up a tortellini factory in her living room and recruiting her sister to knead and twirl the little guys. I am still so in awe of those tortellini, I never attempted them myself.

Christmas has always been about family and food in my book. A few years ago, I started gathering around my table anyone I knew who, for different reasons, found themselves alone on Christmas day. Some are people who have never celebrated the holiday in virtue of their faith, some are visiting and others are stranded, or just alone.

Alongside the traditional panettone and pandoro there will be some elaborate cake of my concoction, that varies every year. Chicken broth and roasts will be featured in some form, but roasted tomatoes and mashed potatoes are a must. A small gift will be under the tree for everyone and, if we are very lucky, it will be raining and somewhat cold.

Crepe Layer Cake with Lemon Cream and Mascarpone Frosting
Crepe Layer Cake with Lemon Cream and Mascarpone Frosting

But even with the reindeer pulling sleighs down Rodeo Drive in the sunshine, or all the windows open to let the warmth come in, it feels like Christmas again: family, friends and food gathered around the table to celebrate another year in the spirit of closeness and community. And my goal for next year is to master AnnaRosa’s tortellini to carry on one of the family traditions I am proudest of. Pasta and prosciutto are in my veins after all.

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8 Comments

  1. Good to read how both of you celebrate Christmas. Friendship, family, and laughter, that’s what it’s all about. Yummy food helps. Can I get an invite for the tortellini? just teasing. Hope you had a nice day and wishing you both the best for the new year.
    Xx

    December 28, 2012
    |Reply
  2. Ha – how different can two Christmasses be? I love the idea of watermelon bellinis, and the muffins sound wonderful too. I wish I was there celebrating with you all and hope to catch up very soon. Love to the Popper Christmas family. Tracey xxx

    December 26, 2012
    |Reply
    • Yes Miss T – I am waiting to hear your news! xx

      December 27, 2012
      |Reply
  3. silvia
    silvia

    Dearest campari and sofa girls, I lift my glass for a toast to your beautiful Xmas days. In the past we already celebrated one together and it would be so nice to do that again sometime somewhere. –
    I know it’s complicated but…

    December 26, 2012
    |Reply
    • Thanks Shareen .. hope you are having happy holidays too.

      December 26, 2012
      |Reply

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