Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Super-Trad (if Childless) Christmas

My electronic spy tells me that someone in the South of England who ought to be in the Central Belt of Scotland keeps checking my blog, so I suspect at least one person wants to know how Christmas is going for the Trids of Edinburgh, particularly the ones who drink gin and think about socks. So I shall write an account of a Super-Trad Young Fogey Trid Edinburgh Christmas.

Super-Trid Young Fogey Edinburgh Christmas at the Historical House began shortly after five on Christmas Eve when the first guest arrived for Wigilia supper. Wiglia is the Polish word for Vigil, and the Poles eat their big Christmas supper during this Vigil, before going to Midnight Mass. But as Advent used to be a fasting time, this is traditionally a meatless meal, featuring a lot of fish and pierogi.

The reason for this Historical House Wigilia supper was two-fold. First, most of our Single friends had somewhere else to eat on Christmas Day, so we tried to tempt them over for Christmas Eve instead. Second, I had a version of my usual conversation with the Lord of History, which went metaphorically like this:

Seraphic: Dear me, Christmas just around the corner. How nice it would be if You sent me a baby, Lord, hint hint.

Lord of History: Now that you mention it, I have a Polish student in his mid-twenties who needs somewhere to eat Christmas Eve Dinner, as his family is abroad and he won't be able to get a visa in time to join them.

Seraphic: That's sort of so not what I meant.

Lord of History: How sad to be Polish and alone in a foreign land on Christmas Eve. It's going to rain, too.

Seraphic: Okay, okay. What do Poles eat for Christmas?

Lord of History: A twelve course meatless meal.

Seraphic: What!?

Lord of History: Involving a lot of herring.

Seraphic: What!?

Lord of History: Plan ahead.

So I made a twelve course meatless mostly-Polish meal* for Christmas Eve, and great fun it was, too. As our table wasn't big enough to accommodate the diners, the traditional place setting for the potential stranger who arrives out of the night, and twelve dishes, I put the dishes out on a side table, and it all looked very impressive, and I was quite pleased with my uber-feminine cooking self.

(B.A., I should mention, made the salmon and rolled some of the pierogi dough. I discovered, at 4:45 PM, that I no longer had enough energy to roll pierogi dough. Thanks to the reader who suggested that at such times men ought to be allowed in the kitchen. Good call!)

So let me see. We had the reading from the Gospel of Luke instead of grace, and we ate an astonishing variety of things, including (of course) herring in two guises, and at ten an invited guest who had had too bad a cold to come to supper came with a hired van to whisk us away to Midnight Mass. First, however, I made her eat a little salmon and some barszcz, which is the correct spelling of borscht from a Polish point of view.

So off we went to Midnight Mass, where 44 Trids gathered to celebrate Baby Jesus and, amusingly, indulge for once in the Three Hymn Sandwich: a`British hymn I didn't know for the Procession to the Crib, "Adestes Fideles" during the Offertory, and "Hark the Herald" after the Recession. The servers were the Grizzled MC and the Marooned Polish Student as Thurifer (and Cross-bearer), as a reader in the South of England will be keenly interested to know. The candles were many and the vestments were gold.

By then the rain had stopped, and it was a clear, fine, mild moonlit night, such as Edinburgh had not known the last three Christmas Eves, believe me. The Trids therefore stood about cheerfully in the car park afterwards, exchanging Christmas greetings and mostly turning down pulls from the Marooned Polish Student's whisky flask. And then the Men's Schola and its Ladies' Auxiliary climbed into the van and were whisked away.

The McAmbroses arrived back at the Historical House at 2 AM, which gave me enough time to take the dough rising in the fridge out of the fridge and transform it into embryonic Traditional Christmas Chelsea Bun, leaving it in its baking tin to rise overnight. For such is the way of the Women of My Family. I went to bed at 3:30 AM, and got up at 9 AM to bake the precious thing. It turned out perfectly, i.e. exactly like my mother's. I had passed my own standard of Women of My Family Femininity, and therefore my superego acknowledged that I had the right to a happy Christmas.

The van returned on Christmas Morning for B.A., but I had no time for such pleasures as Christmas III Mass (Christmas II having been said at 9:30 to a congregation of one). No, no. For now it was time to wash the remaining dishes from Christmas I Supper and Christmas II Breakfast (the Bun), and to make Christmas III Supper. Perhaps if women understood that making three traditional Christmas meals in a row is in itself a kind of priesthood, we would not have so many unhappy Catholic women with bad haircuts rushing off to the Anglicans or excommunicated weirdos for a curious ritual they call ordination.

B.A. skipped the after Mass festivities to come home and labour over the turkey, the gravy and the potatoes. B.A. is a master roaster. No matter what else I do, I leave the cooking of meat and the roasting potatoes to him, for lo, he always gets them right. Instead I made the Traditional Christmas Trifle, the Traditional Christmas Vegetable Soup, the Traditional Christmas Curried Carrots and the Traditional Christmas Green Beans with Red Pepper and Toasted Almonds. Then I got dressed for dinner while B.A. entertained the Guests (Clerical and Polish) in the sitting-room with champagne and the sacred Bun.

Then there was great feasting and drinking and offering of the seven different kinds of desserts I seem to have made for my family of two (literally seven**) and a great deal of after-dinner conversation, into which I popped in and out, on account of having many dishes to wash.

Seraphic: St. Monica used to have trouble with that. As a child, she would steal sips of wine.

Cleric: Really?

Seraphic: Oh yes. St. Augustine wrote about her childhood sins as well as his own. You know, though, St. Monica was not just the weeping mother of the Confessions. In a lesser known work St. Augustine presented her as a great Christian Intellectual.

Assembled Trid Men: Oh? Ah. Mm.

Benedict Ambrose: Apparently it was her prayers that led to St. Augustine's conversion.

Seraphic: Yes, but that's the weeping mother in the Confessions, so that's not my point. My point is. My point. My point is that St. Monica was also a GREAT CHRISTIAN INTELLECTUAL!

Marooned Pole: Have more wine.

Seraphic: No, I'm going to wash more dishes.

And more dishes were washed, and more wine was drunk, and the clerical guest went home at a very prudent hour--about 9:30, gracious--and then the vodka came out. So there was vodka, and Belgian chocolates, and--oddly--the watching of a Polish film called Rejs (1970), and so ended the First Day of Christmas.

*Kutia, kompot, barszcz cierwony, uszka, śledzie w oleju, śledzie w śmietanie, pierogi ruskie, pierogi z grzybami i kapusta, łosoś, carrot-orange salad, kompot owece, makowiec. Wesołych Świąt!

**Christmas fruitcake, florentines, makowiec (poppy seed roll), kutia (wheat berry pudding), kompot (cooked dried fruit with honey), trifle, and Chelsea bun. There were also mince pies, brought by a guest.


Sarah said...

In Germany, Traddie Christmas is a three-day-long affair.

The family went to our newly-built chapel* for vigil Mass around 4pm Christmas Eve, then we all reconvened at my host family's house (it being where the children of the family live) with the children's uncles and grandparents. We opened gifts, and ate sausages with potato salad, and drank wine and sang carols and read aloud from "Bible Legends" until about 10:30 where the Priest Uncle and the other non-residing family members left for Midnight Mass.

Christmas Day morning, we all met again at III Christmas Mass (I think II Christmas Mass was a private one) before going to the grandparents' house for breakfast of apple strudel and coffee. Then the last uncle and his pregnant-with-twins new wife arrived and we ate another traditional German meal of rouladen and red cabbage and beer. The whole family (all 16 of us) went on a walk through the countryside, and then the children and their parents went home, and the grownups stuck around to do more carols and stories, drink some glühwein, and squeezed together in the living room to watch Ice Age 4.

Today is what Germany calls "Second Christmas (because one isn't enough, of course) and we went to Mass, and we'll all get together all over again tonight to do more of the same. It's been great. :)

*I helped! All year I've been laying flooring and installing insulation, and learning how to use a table saw, and moving giant stones, and staining cabinets and panels and the communion rail. By the time we were doing the finishing touches this weekend, I was ready to do "woman's work" as one called it, of ironing the vestments and polishing the pews.)

Anonymous said...

I confess I am quite interested, but I suspect I am where I ought to be (which is coincidentally also in the south!). :) Hope your electronic s. isn't confusing us.


Catholic Bibliophagist said...

Sounds lovely. We had traditional (homemade) Christmas tamales.

--C.B. (in Southern California, USA)

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

I love your accounts of things, Seraphic! They are delightful. Glad you had what sounds like a busy but happy Christmas. :-)

I'm with my folks. My next brother down wasn't here for the first time because he spent Christmas with his fiancee's family, where, apparently, although they are Polish, they had other traditions, which sounded like Czech ones to me, so I'm wondering if they aren't southern Polish. My older sister shared lovely photos of her kids and family at Christmas.

For my family, we decorated the tree on Sunday, I wrapped many presents on Monday, and we went to Midnight Mass that was actually at midnight* and heard a really good homily, talking about our need for a savior and liberator, in the child Jesus. We then said we were all going to go to bed, but actually chatted for a while. The bell garland rang and we hastily got the boys into the girls' room, because Christmas is the only time they are allowed in for any amount of time, but we'd all slept in, what with my youngest sisters being old enough to know about Santa's helpers, and so we did not have the Gathering to Wait Together, which was originally a product of our parents pleading not to wake them too early (which meant before 6). Then we went up and opened presents.

I was not so delightfully successful in my Feminine Cooking Ways, as I did not pay attention to the type of potato when trying to make twice baked ones, and so they went from baked to mashed and baked in a casserole dish, but still tasty. :-) I will redeem myself with whatever cooking 'contest' we have for appetizers for New Years.

Also, if you are up for foreign films, I am making my family watch the Soviet-era Russian holiday classic for New Years called "The Irony of Fate" or "Enjoy your bath" - it is delightfully ridiculous. :-)

Merry Christmas to all!


MaryJane said...

I loved reading your happy account of Christmas! We had a Homeless Christmas of random people with no where to go. Add lots of wine, cheese, sausages, other savory treats, and Elf, and it was a nice day free of the "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" pressure - which ironically, we did.

(Also, a nice young boy at least 7 years my junior sent me a "nice to meet you" follow up email which he signed off with, "take care, kiddo." I *feel* old enough to be his mother, so it was hilariously refreshing - esp. since he had told my friends and I that we were all "well-preserved" for our age. It was delightful.)

Anonymous said...

On a more distressing Christmas note, I think I win the Single is Painful game: due to family members not being able to commit and Mother attempting to appease everyone with children, I walked right into the middle of Christmas Dinner, only thinking to duck into the family house and see who was home and what was going on. No helpful text or call. Ugh.

If anyone would like to have a meet up somewhere for Easter, please let me know!


Anna said...

April - what's your location? :)

Urszula said...

I know I'm late to the party, but I loved your description of your conversation with the Lord of History. If there were more married women ministering so generously to the single communities around them, the world would be a better place!

My very Polish family failed this year at having the requisite 12 dishes (partly because the herring acquired turned out not to be too fresh, and partly because the youngest kids all got sick) so I admire your cooking fervor all the more!

Which was your favorite dish? I love barszcz z uszkami and my best memories involved devouring plates of it after returning to my grandmother's house at 3 AM after midnight Mass and a walk in the woods.

Seraphic said...

I very much liked the barszcz although my absolute favourite was the makowiec. And then I really like the kutia.