Two things here…

Two things here, since that day is less than a month away. Let me be the first, (or so I hope), to wish you a Merry and Blessed Christmas.

To accompany that thought, what were Christmas Eve Dinners like when you were growing up? Just Christmas Eve Dinners or maybe Christmas DAY dinners only. We have the next year to maybe talk about other holiday meals.

When I was very young I remember Christmas Eve dinner, some of the oddities or circumstances were no knives at the table, except for that funny shaped butter knife, (remember those?), thirteen or seven different dishes of food, (why 13 or 7, I dunno), an empty place setting, (in case someone would just come along as no-one should be without a place to eat on Christmas Eve), straw on the table under the white table cloth, (in memory of our savior being born and spending his first night in a manger), no meat, (as tradition was it was a “fast” before the “feast day”), but at least two types of fish, candles on the table, (not for romance but to show reverence to the occasion), Christmas wafer, “Oplatki”, a special baked wafer, blessed by the church, that one would offer to each other as good wishes were made, but only after the head of the household said a solemn prayer. Then even the youngest ones there would toast the Merry Christmas with a taste of wine. (The youngest ones would have theirs in a a shot glass, half full or less. babies would get a taste from mom’s glass, a very little.)

That’s the way it was for me and my Christmas Eve dinner, lost to time but in my memory still.

Think about what was in your youth and how things changed, maybe you can bring some of them back in your personal lives. I hope so.

If you didn’t already guess, I grew up in a Polish household.

24 thoughts on “Two things here…

  1. Thank you so much for this beautiful post, Gerry. Christmas Eve was always my favorite day and night of the year. Every Christmas Eve night, my Mother’s rather large family would gather in the little apartment they grew up in. It was the second floor of a two family house. We would all get dressed up and cram ourselves into that little space-the adults would drink, and the kids, of which there were many, would run around crazy. There were way too many of us to fit at one table- we either ate at multiple tables, or on our laps. It was always Turkey-my Irish Catholic elders were totally unaware of any fasting requirements, lol, but I have heard before of people eating fish on Christmas Eve.

    That little two family house has long since been sold, many of those who were there every Christmas Eve have long since passed. I would give anything to see them again.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. “If you didn’t already guess, I grew up in a Polish household.”

    Sorry to wander off-topic, but one of my most interesting trips was to Poland- Wroclaw, Krakow, and certainly on my bucket list- Gdansk- because I so wanted to see the Solidarity Gates. We stayed in Krakow and much to our delight we were given the Lech Walesa suite and I took a picture of his signature in the hotel guest book!

    As for Christmas Eve, my tradition was going to my favorite restaurant with my husband knowing we would be deluged with relatives the next day. 🙂

    A Very Merry to you Gerry and I sincerely hope you are spending your Christmas with loved ones after the year you’ve endured.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. To make a long story short, my Dad was born in Poland and my daughter is investigating our family tree. She is working on proving that we are descendants from a Polish hero, one who’s name is in the chorus of the present day Polish National Anthem. Look it up for an English translation. You can only get more Polish by living in Poland I guess. (wink wink)

      Liked by 5 people

  3. Hello, Gerry! I envy you the Polish tradition….For my family it was, opening the gift that was new clothes, cocoa and cookies before Midnight Mass, on Christmas Eve; and dinner the next day with EVERYBODY! Great memories…A blessed Advent and Merry Christmas!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Gerry, do you know why no knives?
    Yes Christmas Eve, like the days leading up to Easter, are fasting days or were. When we were in Salzburg we heard that the traditional meal is a soup with a little sausage floating in it. This harks back to the days when a lot of people would have had meat ONLY on feast days, and not very much of it, While the family was eating, someone who was in on it would ring a bell, and the children would know the Christ Child had been there. In Austria it’s the baby Jesus who brings the children’s gifts, and He’s wingéd like an Angel to help him get around in time, so,the children might find a single white feather lying on the windowsill. Then everybody goes to midnight mass, and the festival day has arrived!
    That’s not mine, though. On Christmas Eve, my sister and I always went to dinner at our….well, I guess she was our “nanny”, though we had never heard that word—at her nearby house, which to us seemed delightfully old fashioned. She and the two sisters she lived with still had a coal stove! We gave them our family’s presents, and our beloved duenna gave us presents. I was always ecstatic, let’s face it, she knew child me better than anyone else, she always gave me little perfect items I treasured for years.
    Then she drove us the 2+ miles back home, where our parents would have decorated and lit our tree! We could see it in the window as we drove up! And our stockings would’ve reappeared from The North Pole, lying on the sofa waiting for us to hang them at the hearth. God bless you always, dear mother and dad, for creating this magic for us. It was truly a wonderland, a “ Heaven in ordinary”, as George Herbert wrote! I only hope I did HALF as wonderful a job for my daughter.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Follow up: Since I was married to Judy, or soon there after, the exact time evades my failing memory, my wife’s brother and his wife would hold a Christmas Day dinner party, All of the Nealons, my wife’s maiden name, would gather with their offspring and we would have a large family dinner on Christmas Day. It was great as my family moved to the four corners or in reality, Florida, New York, and the ones locally had their own families to be with.

    Well that was called off this year, they say due to the COVID-19. But I know it was also because her brothers and her sister lost their little sister, my wife. She was the youngest of that family of four.

    Maybe next year it will be again, with my son by my second wife Judy and his girlfriend and as it was before, my daughter by my first wife was always invited, even though she celebrates Christmas in January as her church is; St. George’s Orthodox Greek Catholic Church. That was an arrangement we had, my first wife and I, if a boy I would raise him Roman Catholic, if a girl, she would be raised Carpatho-Russian Orthodox.

    As another aside; some day I’ll have to tell you all about my daughter’s name. That is a funny but true story.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “As another aside; some day I’ll have to tell you all about my daughter’s name. That is a funny but true story.”

      Your stories are wonderful, Gerry, thank you 🙂

      Like

    2. I’m so angry about this, our holidays being cancelled, our gatherings, just when we need to see each other most! Damn the Left is good. They’ve thought of everything. They HAD to switch over from “avoid crowds!” To “avoid small gatherings!” in order to kill our two most sacred and beloved festivals.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. About the removal of the knives:
    there is only one other such custom I know of, out of Scotland: they remove the knives from the table if a Campbell is present. (Sorry dear Judy!). It relates to an incident where the Campbells accepted the MacDonald clan’ s invitation to dinner, then massacred their hosts.
    (I’d have to say though that traveling in Scotland and Ireland 2 years ago, I heard similar stories many times. That was when Game of Thrones was really big, and the guides always said that what had happened at a particular castle was the inspiration for the “Red Wedding” scene. I got the feeling that the “laws of hospitality” were frequently honored in the breach…..)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. In MacDonald territory in Scotland there are still signs on the restaurants, “We do not serve Campbells”..and they ain’t talking about the canned soup!

        Liked by 2 people

        1. When the Campbells migrated over to the Eastern Coast (mine settled in TN) they were known as fierce scrappers and did not allow themselves to succumb to a less than hospitable environment.

          I’m proud of those ancestors because I admire the grit and determination; two traits lacking in current American society.

          Liked by 2 people

  7. That’s an interesting thought! Also I must correct myself, after speaking with my older sister, she says the number of different dishes should be twelve. She didn’t know where the seven or thirteen came from. (Somewhere in the back of my warped mind maybe?)

    As to the knives, they were definitely absent from the table. maybe it was a family tradition? I dunno, but I do know the home made bread was sliced before it got placed on the table, the nut roll and the poppy seed roll as well, the rest of the food didn’t need to be cut with a knife, the side of a fork worked well.

    I don’t remember soups, but some polish interpretations say soup was served. I can’t remember soup at our house.

    Another thing my older sister mentioned, was that one must take a sample of everything, even though you didn’t like it, you had to taste it.

    As to what was served, let me try and remember, there were two types of fish, one was flounder, bread, nut roll and poppy seed roll, two types of pierogies, one type filled with cabbage like sauerkraut and the other filled with mashed potatoes, some sort of mashed bean dish, sauteed mushrooms (papinkies, honey mushrooms), sauerkraut, cold beets, butter. And cookies. I’ll have to run this list by my older brother as well, so there may be an update…

    Liked by 2 people

  8. While you’re researchin’, Gerry, I’m dying to know about a certain soup issue Michener mentioned: when a suitor came calling to ask for a daughter’s hand, if the lord decided “no”, the poor reject would be served the Black Soup at dinner. I think Michener actually describes how to make it. I can’t remember how they made it black—charcoal, maybe? It wasn’t toxic or bad tasting, it was just…black. And the poor boyo was expected to just, well, literally suck it up….

    Liked by 1 person

  9. OK, I talked with my older sister and my older brother. This shed some light on things. There were THIRTEEN DISHES. One in memory for for each apostle and one for Jesus.

    The best of our collective memory it may still have one item missing if one can not count number 13.
    Each household had variations on the same theme for food dishes. This is what we had.

    1 Breaded Flounder
    2 Fish Sticks
    3 Pickled hearing
    4 Bread (home made)
    5 Nut Roll (home made)
    6 Poppy Seed Roll (home made)
    7 Saluted Mushrooms (home made, picked by my father and canned by my mother)
    8 Pirogi filled with potatoes (home made)
    9 Pirogi Filled with cabbage (home made)
    10 Cold red beets (from a can)
    11 Stewed prunes (home made)
    12 Mashed Lima beans (home made)
    13 Could be the Oplatek ( Christmas Wafer blessed by the priest )

    Other things present on the table but not counted were scallions in a glass or water, Butter, Salt and Pepper, Wine was in glasses already, Milk for the young’ns. Generally there was no room for a pitcher of water, but water glasses were filled, a plate of home made cookies, mixed cookie press type decorated and toll-house cookies.

    The straw eventually was just a piece of two by the time I remembered.

    No answer why no knives. Like I said every household had some special variations.

    There was always a spare place setting, sometimes moved to the flat top of the sewing machine which was in the kitchen when it got crowded.

    Some food was shared with pets to show gratitude for the animals present in the stable where Jesus was born. There was a belief that at midnight the animals would be given the power of human speech. Some traditions say the PINK Oplatek ( Christmas Wafer blessed by the priest ) was for the pets.

    I can not remember directly, but I think my father, ( God Rest His Soul ), born in Poland in 1909, also had told me that on New Years Eve at midnight or very soon after I should eat a piece of pickled herring for good luck and health in the new year.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. One more thing, we sat down for Christmas Eve Dinner when the first star was visible. Sort of like the star that guided the wise men to Bethlehem and Jesus.

    Liked by 1 person

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