Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Cracker of a Christmas!

Christmas this year was my favourite yet - at least in all my grown-up years. Nostalgia is a very powerful thing to beat, and I have some very special Christmas memories from my childhood. The first Christmas I had to miss - when I went to work overseas at age 21 - was pretty miserable.

I called home and could hardly speak for the huge lump that was stuck in my throat. The rabble on the other end of the line was hard to stomach - Chistmas day sounded as wonderful as ever, without me. I remember the heart stabbing moment when my wholly insensitive big bother realized how close to tears I actually was. Instead of being sympathetic he laughed out loud, then yelled to all the others sitting around our dining table 'she's crying!'

They can be hard, my family. I could hear Mum scolding them (only half heartedly) as they all jooined in the laughter at my expense. Apparently they'd set a place out for me at the dining table and stood my graduation picture up. Then during dinner they'd tried to hit me in the face by catapulting mash potato from their spoons. I can't be sure, but I suspect even Mum and Dad were participants in this mean game.

Anyway, in a twisted way, I understood, and I was flattered to be such a big part of the dinner, even if I was the brunt of all the humour. Now I'm 31, it's a decade on, and it's been many years since I've spent Christmas Day at my parents house. I don't think they've bothered to fire potatoes at my face in a long time. And I don't miss being there so much anymore. Especially now I've got my own children.

But I love the traditions and the memories, and I try so hard to bring a little of my childhood Christmases across the pond to Texas, and subsequently into my children's lives. It's pretty amazing how different the Holiday season can be from one continent to the next.

So this Christmas, we hosted Dinner at our cabin here in Texas. And we invited all of my local extended family to join us in the festivities. Dinner was an organized pot luck- everybody brings a different part of the meal - to save us from cooking for 20 or so people. The main dish was turkey - some Christmas traditions are pretty universal. I boiled some Brussell sprouts - it's just not Christmas without Brussell sprouts. And as an extra special treat I bought Christmas Crackers for entertainment during the meal. There were enough laid out on the dining table for everybody to pull twice and for each of us to wear a cheesy paper crown during dinner.

Crackers are an expensive rarity over here, I think because they're all imported. So getting the good ones, with a different trinket or toys in each cracker, a week before Christmas, turned into a bit of an online mission - one that took all evening. But, I eventually scored big, with a Cracker Box set that was on sale and would ship within 48 hours. I was so very excited, and also somewhat nervous that my treasured tradition would go down like a lead balloon with the Texan In-laws. The 48 hours delivery promise was still cutting it so fine that I also bought some back up mini Crackers from Target, just in case my online purchase fell by the wayside. This year I really had my heart set on Christmas crackers.

It turned out that the back-up crackers were not necessary. My Polka-dot Christmas crackers arrived a mere 2 days before Christmas and they were beautiful. And what a hoot they turned out to be during dinner. Not only did they make for a great ice-breaker for our Motley crew of extended family, the toys and games provided fun entertainment to adults and kids alike throughout the whole meal. Crowns were unabashedly worn, and tragic jokes flew back on forth across the table earning the groans they deserved.

Q. Why don't you see penguins in Britain?
A. Because they're afraid of Wales      

While many of our guests had seen or heard of Crackers before, most had never actually pulled a cracker themselves. It was very special to watch Great-Grandmother and Great-Grandson in a tug-o-war combat over a hat, toy and joke. I can't be sure but I think Great-Granny reigned supreme. It's amazing how a bit of lighthearted competition can warm up a crowd.

Back home the silly little game of tug-a-war, usually raises everybody's energy and laughter to 'rabble' level. Once everyone is talking over each other and you can't hear yourself think - only then would it truly feel like Christmas, at my parents house.

My husband's family never quite reached 'rabble' level - but they got pretty close. And that was plenty good enough for me. Not only was I able to lessen my own homesickness by bringing my homeland tradition to the Christmas table, I was also super pleased to be able to share this new cracker of an experience with my Texan family. If I've got anything to do with it, it's a tradition that's here to stay.

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