Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Family Christmasses (cont’d)

When I got married in 1988, I joined my third family.  That was in August, and in about October the subject of Christmas came up.  I’d already realised that they did it on a scale I hadn’t yet experienced, so in a moment of self-confident rashness I said “Well, we can have it here, can’t we?”  There were expressions ranging from bewildered through delighted to highly relieved.  Afterwards, I was consoled.  “Well, you weren’t to know...”

It turned out that we were sleeping eight adults and two pre-teens in our just occupied, barely habitable three-bedroom house.  That proved easy once modesty, privacy, all that kind of stuff had been sufficiently downgraded – after all, I was used to roughing it.  What proved to be harder to cope with was the sheer scale of the thing.  Especially the presents.

This family’s approach to present-giving, it seemed, could be summarised as: if you know you need it, or are going to need it – a shirt, a suit, a pair of shoes, an electric toothbrush, anything –  in the next twelve months, wrap it up and call it a Christmas present.  (I exaggerate, but not much.)  This wasn’t in itself a bad idea, and it did add to the general jollity for the first hour or two – everybody likes a pressie, whether their own or someone else’s, don’t they? – but the rule, it also seemed, was that each one had to be opened, inspected and if you were unlucky passed round the whole family to be admired, before the paper on the next one could be touched.  Time passed.  Slowly.  Eventually lunch came to the rescue.

My exact memory of how it went is hazy now, but I’m sure that at some point after the pudding and before the next round of gifts – probably during the coffee and brandies, come to think of it – I had an inspiration. 

“Sing-song anybody?”

Twenty eyes lit up.

This story will be concluded in my next post.



Monday, 26 December 2016

Family Christmasses

I reckon I’ve belonged to four families so far, if a family can be thought of as a bunch of people you spend Christmas with. 
All four families were very different, but all four Christmasses were the same in essence, which I don’t need to spell out but will anyway  - gifts; food and drink; laughter and love; the occasional spat and reconciliation; exhaustion and unexpected energy reserves… I didn’t need to, did I?  So I’d like to have a look at the differences.
When I was growing up, Christmas was a time to be taken for granted, of course – I was a child, and children have the feelings they’re taught to and don’t question them much, do they?  So I won’t dwell on childhood Christmasses except to note that gifts were pretty frugal: this was the forties and fifties, and though my parents were well off by most people’s standards, there wasn’t that much left over for extravagance, which in any case wasn’t in their nature.  So our stockings would be bulked out with  tangerines and walnuts – strangely, those are the gifts I seem to remember most vividly.
Then I joined an Italian family.  The emphasis there was on the food and drink.  I read an article recently which feared that this was in danger of dying out, and there’s probably a risk of that, but I have few direct connections with Italy any more, so can’t say.  My Italian family was from Reggio-Emilia, which meant antipasto, then capelletti (or tortellini) alla panna (in cream; none of your wimpish brodo round there), then a huge bollito misto with salsa verde and rosso; cheese (appropriate wines to accompany all that, often home-made lambrusco, but not as you might know it – real lambrusco is raspingly dry and low in alcohol, drunk more in the manner and quantities we’d drink bitter); various desserts probably including zuppa inglese (English soup: trifle to you); rounded off with coffee, a slice of panettone and a grappa or cognac or several.  After all that there wasn’t much time, space or energy for anything else.
The third and fourth families will be along tomorrow.