Tuesday, December 19, 2017

A Writer's Christmas in Quebec

By R.J. Harlick

We are in the middle of the holiday “season.” What do you like about the holidays, and what drives you crazy?

For me, Christmas is all about family and traditions. I love this time of year and though it can get a bit frenetic, that period is fleeting. For the most part I view it not only as a time to catch up with the lives of family members spread far and wide, but also a time to put my feet up in front of a crackling fire and enjoy the calm before the pull of the new year takes hold.

For close to thirty years, we have been celebrating our extended family Christmas at our log cabin in the Quebec woods. We can usually be guaranteed a good covering of the white fluffy stuff giving us a Christmas card perfect setting for the celebration. When children were young and boisterous, it was also the perfect place to keep them amused. They would spend much of their time outdoors tobogganing down the hill or skating on the frozen lake and if the snow conditions permitted, having a snowball fight.

Christmas starts with the search for the perfect spruce tree growing somewhere on our property. A few days before the big day we chop it down and drag it home…or more correctly my husband chops and drags it home, while I and the dogs offer encouragement. We let it drip dry in the basement until we put it up on Christmas Eve, when everyone has arrived.

The number of family members have changed over the years as the older ones have passed on and the younger ones have grown up and acquired significant others, even a baby. The demise of a marriage caused a few hiccups, but eventually that family settled into a Christmas routine. This year one family is heading off to where their daughter, our niece, now lives, so our group will be somewhat smaller. But come Christmas 2018, we could all be back together again with additions, for a marriage is in the works for next summer.

Decorating the tree is a family affair. Everyone gets to hang a bobble wherever they want. I’m not into a perfectly decorated tree or a themed one, rather I love a mishmash of colour, glitter and tradition. We have glass beads that once decorated my husband’s family tree, glass balls bought for my own Christmas tree after moving out of the family home, decorations acquired in Moscow, some purple icicles and tinsel bought at Harrods and so on and so forth. I still have the clothespin decoration my grandmother crocheted for my very first Christmas. Each has a story to tell. I love that they remind me of Christmases past.

Christmas Day invariably starts with the opening of presents followed by a scrumptious breakfast usually cooked by a nephew.  While everyone else relaxes and enjoys the day, I begin preparations for the BIG meal. For thirty years, the menu hasn’t varied. I think if I did try to introduce a change, there would be a major revolt. The pièce de resistance is of course the turkey with stuffing and lots of gravy, mash potatoes with sour cream, green beans and butternut squash, followed by a green salad. Dessert is minced meat pie with hard sauce. This year, however, will be an exception.

I usually make my own minced meat with real meat liberally doused with brandy. My recipe makes six imperial pints, with one pint per pie. This gives me six years worth of pies. I tell you the older the minced meat the better it tastes. But I haven’t replenished my supply for a couple of years. Last year I bought a minced pie from a local bakery and was very disappointed, so I think I will make pumpkin pie this year, which will be a significant change. I hope my family can handle it, though I suspect the younger generation won’t mind. Minced meat pie has never been their thing. In fact, I usually have to include another less traditional Christmas dessert like chocolate cake to make them happy.

Another tradition carried over from when I was a child is the Christmas cracker. We all have great fun trying to get them to bang, reading out the jokes and playing with our prizes. And everyone, no matter how reluctant must wear their coloured paper crown, though I will admit usually by the end of the meal there are only a few diehards still wearing them.

Another Christmas treat is the small wooden Christmas tree that serves as the centre piece for the table. It is decorated by eight candles. I picked this up in Stockholm many years ago. Unfortunately, I can only buy German candles in Ottawa, which are a touch too large. So my brother-in-law shaves them down so that they can fit into the Swedish holders. We also have to be extra vigilant as the candles burn lower, to ensure that they don’t ignite the wooden tree. We’ve had a couple of near misses over the years.

Once the meal is finished we retreat to the sofas and chairs in front of the fire to relax and groan from over-eating and continue to enjoy each other’s company for come the next day most will be heading back home to resume their hectic lives.

I mustn't forget to mention the Christmas of the power outage after a major snowstorm. We were leafing through the recipe book trying to determine how best to barbeque a turkey when the electricity miraculously came on. 

Now I know I’m supposed to be mentioning things that also drive me crazy at this time of year and I won’t deny that there are a few. But you know what, I prefer to ignore them. I’d rather dwell on those aspects that make Christmas so special for me, my husband and our family.

I’d like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and hope you can enjoy it with family and friends. See you in 2018.


Susan C Shea said...

Your Christmas sounds like the perfect, ideal vision we carry in our heads but seldom find in the real world. Perhaps your cabin is located in Three Pines?! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Robin.

Unknown said...

Enchanting. That's all there is to say. Have a wonderful Christmas .

RJ Harlick said...

Susan, Mike, wishing you both a fabulous Christmas and New Year too.