December 31, 2010

Christmases Past and Present

Christmas 2008 on PEI

When I was very little my family celebrated Christmas in Florida. For three years, we rented a house right on the canal near Marathon, in Key West. Those are the first Christmases I remember, and they were idyllic.

One year we couldn't find a real Christmas tree - this is Florida after all - so instead we bought a Norfolk Island pine. It was spindly, and only about 4 or 5 feet tall, but it ended up being the cutest tree ever. My Mom still has the tree ornaments we bought in those years. They remind us of warmer Christmases: slender, delicate seashells tied with ribbons, and brightly coloured wooden fish. I remember making decorations too: cutting squares out of paper and drawing with markers to create little flags that we strung on the tree.

There were sunny afternoons swimming in the canal, the time we rented a boat with my cousins, who lived in Florida, and spent the day driving around the maze of canals and jumping off the boat into the cool water. Lazy days at the Cabana Club, a nearby swimming pool on a beach. I think we spent nearly all our time in water of some kind.

My Dad had a crab trap set up in the canal behind out house, and I remember going with him to check the trap in the morning. I don't know if I liked eating fresh crab back then - I'd love to have some now. Eating on these trips was my parents' dream, especially my Dad's: he loved anything that came from the sea. He cooked fish year-round at home, but especially loved the freshest stuff in the summers from Nova Scotia and PEI. So being able to enjoy more fresh seafood over Christmas was fantastic.

As for food, what I remember most is the kid stuff: chili dogs at the canteen at the Cabana Club, and lots and lots of Christmas candy. Chocolate santas filled with marshmallow fluff, and sugar cookies left for Santa. Bowls of red pistachios that stained your fingers bright red, little paper baskets on the tree filled with candy and nuts. The baskets on the tree became a tradition that lasts to this day, when I'm lucky enough to celebrate Christmas with my family. We have red and white Swedish woven baskets, usually filled with peanut M and Ms or little wrapped candies. Going through the tree and picking out the candy is a great part of Christmas morning.

This year there were no paper baskets, no M and Ms, not even a Christmas tree. But there was much, much more. Chewy amaretti cookies studded with pine nuts. Soft, salty balls of snow-white buffalo mozzarella. One of the best Christmas days ever, cooking together in an extremely warm, unfamiliar kitchen with an 8-person extended family of three generations. Roasted, pureed butternut squash, roasted fennel with pistachios, mushroom risotto, lemony roast potatoes, chicken with red wine sauce, bottle after bottle of Italian wine. Singing carols, playing cards, telling stories. Midnight mass on Christmas Eve in a church with a statue by Michelangelo and a blue ceiling studded with stars, then a walk across a cobblestone piazza for hot chocolate and aged beef with parmesan at a little restaurant lit with Christmas lights. Wishing each other Merry Christmas at midnight, then peeking into the Pantheon, probably the most amazing building I've ever set foot in, listening at the doorway to the haunting notes of "Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming" waft up to the impossibly high, perfect ceiling.

Those and a hundred other memories have made this Christmas season one I'll never forget. We are back in Edmonton to ring in the new year, but my mind stays in Rome with my family. A broken compueter means no photos yet, but soon.
Happy New Year, and thank you all for taking the time to visit this litte corner of the internet in 2010.


Kinne said...

The red and white checked heart decoration is Danish! I t is a tradition here from kindergarten and up, families get together and make "julehjerter", Christmas hearts, for tree decoration together with strung Danish flags. Color and material fads have come and gone through the years.

Anne said...

Best Christmas Ever!! and your memories are wonderful. I love hearing exactly what you remember! And imagining the traditions you'll create for you own kids. Our time together in Rome was magical.
Love, Mom

Isabelle said...

Thanks for letting me know Kinne!