I get to double dip big time during the holiday season. No, not the way you think; culturally speaking. I love the American tradition of Christmas, but I still celebrate the Three Wise Men’s arrival on January 6th. And when Peter was alive, we also lit the candles at Hanukah. The fact is that I start feeling the holiday sentiments on my daughter’s and my birthday, which are both in November, and I don’t let go of the celebratory mood until the end of January with my other daughter’s birthday.
I even enjoy Thanksgiving, one of the most American of holidays. I remember the first year we were in this country and my family was invited to a professor’s house for the big dinner. We kept a Spanish schedule then, with meals late in the evening, how were we going to be hungry at five o’clock in the afternoon? From that first time to this day, the corn stuffing with sausage and the cranberry sauce have been my favorite part of the traditional menu. Never mind that we didn’t mix savory with sweet flavors in my mother’s kitchen.
This past year, my daughters and their husbands decided that they wanted a paella for Thanksgiving. How weird is this, I thought, but I obliged, with the small concession of a pecan pie for dessert. Full disclosure: on the Wednesday before I cooked for a friend and myself a small, traditional menu with a turkey breast (much easier than the full bird), the famous stuffing (with added fennel nowadays), and all the trimmings including oranges in the cranberry sauce. Who is the real American now?
Of course, after over fifty years in this country, I still celebrate my Saint’s Day on December 8th, the day of the Immaculate Conception (imagine explaining this to my daughters when they were little). When I was growing up, our Saint’s Day –because most children were named after saints back then—was more important than our birthdays. This was particularly so at my home, since my mother and I shared the same name. That day, it was sort of an open house; friends and relatives would come over to celebrate well into the evening. My mother’s famous “rollitos” (anisette cookies) were always served. I must add that my twin granddaughters have a date with me to make the “rollitos” as soon as they are home from college.
During the Christmas season, traditionally, families in Spain would decorate their homes with an elaborate Nativity scene, with shepherds and their herds, complete with running water (aluminum foil, really). On Christmas Eve, we used to go to my Aunt Elena’s house for a big dinner, usually a roasted leg of lamb. The children would present a play or recite poems in order to get our “aguinaldo,” the Christmas bonus. There were no presents until the Epiphany on January 6th.
Christmas Day was another day for festivities and meals with family and friends, before my parents wedding anniversary on December 26th, when it was again my family’s turn to host. I got married on the same day, obviously to keep up with the family’s tradition and probably to keep extending the holidays. No wonder that I’m a firm believer of the 12 days of Christmas and its famous carol. Should I admit that I have little plates with that theme to prove it?
Nothing compared, however, to January 6th, the day of the Reyes Magos –the Three Wise Men—for the uninitiated. On the night before, we left hard cider for the kings and straw for the camels in our balcony, to be substituted by our toys and the occasional piece of coal. My king was Balthasar and he never let me down. Needless to say, I often have a dinner party around this date and I have found a neighbor who makes a delicious “roscón de Reyes,” the Spanish version of the Buche de Noel. I don’t even want to think how I am going to feel this year on January 6th, now the awful anniversary of the Capitol riot. Leave it to Trump to ruin one of my favorite holidays!
I just found out that my American family wants “Arroz al horno” (a baked rice dish) for their Christmas meal this year. I can’t tell if I have done a terrible job or a good job raising my daughters. I guess it depends what side of the Atlantic you are on.
Whatever your tradition and your celebrations, I wish you all health and happiness!