Episode 005: Christmas Day Traditions: California and Sweden
Detailed Show notes and thoughts for Episode 005: Christmas Day Traditions in California and Sweden and a bit in New York are below:
What were Ariel and Mats’ Christmas day traditions?
Today, it’s Ariel’s turn to talk about her family traditions.
Christmas Day- December 25th: California Style
It was hard to sleep Christmas Eve, there was always too much excitement.
Ariel, and her younger cousin Bryan, would hear reindeer, bells and Santa on the roof at Aunt Miranda’s. It was a super cool annual event they would look forward to.
The kids of the house would try to sneak downstairs to try to see Santa. Yet, there were always adults close by who would shoo them away so they would have go to sleep so Santa could come.
Sometimes the kids, of all ages big and small, would wake very early to see if their stockings were full, yet generally had to wait to open them at the breakfast table.
Christmas Day rituals
Christmas morning, was all about opening our stockings, wearing pjs (pajamas) until noon and enjoying a casual breakfast together.
Breakfast was fairly simple on this day as Christmas supper/dinner was usually somewhere between 1 and 4 in the afternoon. As there would be a lot of food, in the afternoon, so it was important 1, not to eat too much at breakfast and 2 not put a lot more energy into preparation since adults had been putting out energy for days, getting various foods ready for this day.
Sci Fi addiction began
Between breakfast and dinner, Ariel often sat beside her older cousin Steve, watching Tv Sci fi marathons. Usually it was the old Star Trek series, or some such. The networks always knew families were all home and as it was pre-internet and Netflix, they had many watching as the only other access to movies and shows was by watching vhs tapes and later dvds.
After dinner, everyone paired off chatting. Ariel’s mom and cousin Diana in one corner, others in various places around the house or playing backgammon as was Armenian family tradition.
Reality of divorced and multiple families around
Ariel and her mom might also drive all around, over the holidays, to see Ariel’s other relatives. So, they would hop over to the “Green” cousins and uncle and aunt, (on dad’s side) in the Oakland hills. Then, a long drive over to the “Green” grandparents, in the South bay to top off the day (when they were alive). Each home had their own tradition foods and rituals they would look forward to.
Aunt Shirley Green’s rum cake and fruitcake were amazing and special unto only her, forever. Hers was the only fruitcake we would ever eat! Definitely NOT the disgusting neon colored nasty fruit bits-cake that people joke about and re-gift for years until finally someone throws it away. The rum cake was also a special family recipe that Ariel only make every few years, though honestly.. it’s just never quite as good without her hand turning the bowl and pouring alcohol over it for over a week.
At Ariel’s grandpa Skip and grandma Parker’s memories were all about garlic herb popcorn, coo coo clock and dogs, always dogs and of course coins to count from the year’s pocket change. (a kids dream with a mountain of coins and coin holders and maybe also a dream for the adults to keep us quite busy for a long time). And, sometimes when lucky Grandma Parker let the kids have fun things to play dress-up.
Ariel’s mom’s specialties
For most years Ariel and her mom had Christmas trees wherever home was, until mom’s Lovely beach-cat started climbing them when he was a kitten, so less trees, in recent were decorated in later years.
The big thing at Ariel’s mom’s house was that mom-Diana was all about grandma’s recipes for holiday ritual and tradition.
Diana was known for her colorful and tasty gingerbread cookies and dolma.
Every surface in her house was covered in newspaper and cookies covered every inch of flat surfaces she frosted cookies for days. Day by day she would do each new color. Blue icing day, and do all the eyes and other bits, then another and another until the little pieces of artwork were all completed, each little canvas full, drying and ready fill the next houses where they would soon live, full with bursting colors.
Diana’s dolma, was always at the top of the request list for every special occasion. Hers were Armenian style as she was100% and Ariel 1/2. Arrival of dolma always came in a glass baking dish with layers of green wrapped savory delights with lemon slices adorning the top like yellow flowers scattered about.
She would pick the tenderest leaves and set them aside. Them came the crying from chopping onions by hand. She never used a food processor for the vegetarian filling. Seems a part of the ritual, for all women to be sitting around the table, telling stories about the old country, elders in the family and more.
Food served at dinnertime
Mats asked what Ariel’s family would eat and if they over ate as much as in Sweden. And, the answer was, “yes”.
Food served changed each year according to mood, etc.
Turkey or other was generally served, each year. As a vegetarian, Ariel didn’t eat many things and most years her family didn’t remember what she did or didn’t eat, so she would bring some of her own food. The holiday meal was similar to Thanksgiving, with cranberry sauce, potatoes etc. Pecan pie, my mom would make apple pie since we were from apple country.
Cousin Diana would play piano and sing Christmas songs and motivate us all to join in, as she was a singer (one of her many talents).
Ariel’s mom’s family (at aunts) would call elder relatives who couldn’t come to join the festivities, which was usual as they didn’t travel much. Great uncle or great aunt would be called and the phone would be passed around. Ariel’s grandma (on mother’s side) died when she was 5, so all elder relatives were dear.
You could always see who was working the most. Many of the young people we were always over working, so it each year one of us would sleep later. And, Ariel was nearly always sick during that time after an overwhelming holiday season at work. It was the time the body could let go. Usually a big fever or something. Later, when she left that career, it was great to enjoy the holidays, again.
Aunt Miranda’s place was so nice and magical with beautiful decorations all around for the awe of children’s little eyes to see and experiences. She had lovely Christmas placemats made from Christmas cards of the past.
Mats asked if we all got along and that we saw each other more often and so on.
Overall things went well over the holidays. As a kid things were fine, you don’t see all the details of the dramas. Later, you noticed things differently. There was always a lot of strength and intelligence, in the room. One mother or daughter or another would have conflict, as per normal life. You have an idea of what being with family is, compared to reality. It was overwhelming at times to be around the drama of family.
Some years Ariel would boycott and meet with other Vegetarian friends and have a lighter version of things. Her family would always taunt her that all was peaceful, that year and she would laugh at the irony of it all.
When Mats came the 1st couple times to Ariel’s family’s house, it was a sort of funny comedy when not your own family.
Nearly never had a white Christmas in California, except a couple times in the mountains with boyfriends.
Usually, there was just a lot of driving all around to all different relatives in the car, circling the bay.
Ariel only did one Christmas with her dad one year. She remembered all the lovely snow, big dog, kids table, miniatures in little packages, kids table and a lovely tree in the corner. Reflecting back, she remembers her 1st scary plane ride with winter air bumps, death on the nile movie playing on the main screen and a near death-feeling-experience sledding and the gathering of people she had never met before.
Then, later in life, Ariel and Mats went to Ariel’s step brother’s, on the east coast, for a lovely Christmas with her nieces, his wife, her dad, step mom and her husband. Adeline’s cooking was always amazing with the Santa’s hates, family cookies and delights.
Each family, West, Middle, North, South or East coast, have some similar holiday foods. And, of course, each individual family has their own special family traditions, each year.
As well, many American families have traditions from their heritage and still consider themselves to be very European, though often Europeans don’t view it in that same way.
QUESTION: What traditions or family dynamics do/don’t you look forward to, each Christmas Eve?
Finishing off with “Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas”.
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