For the first time in my entire life, I didn’t have any plans for Christmas Eve this year and I must say, it felt weird. Christmas Eve dinner at my parent’s house and before that at my grandparent’s house, has been the most important part of Christmas for as long as I can remember.
Of course Christmas morning is fun too, what with Santa and all. But Christmas Eve was always when the whole family got together and some of us even dressed up a little bit. When a bunch of Southerners get together with their family and at least a third of them take the trouble to find a clean shirt, you know that it’s a pretty special shindig.
A month or so ago when it became clear to some of the more organized members of the family that celebrating on Christmas Day would cause less conflicts with work schedules and maybe we should switch days, I was totally on board. It sounded like a good idea. I didn’t work either day and it seemed like maybe it would relieve some stress to have an extra day for preparations. Besides, when my daughter was little, she complained that the biggest day of the year kind of petered out by mid-morning right after the last of Santa’s treasures had been unwrapped. This way the festivities would last until late Christmas night.
What I had not counted on however was how traumatic an empty dance card on Christmas Eve was going to be. As I am writing this the day before Christmas Eve, I am starting to freak out a little bit. I can’t help but think about the 56 Christmas Eves that have come before.
Most of them were wonderful, one was tragic but even that time, there was plenty of family close by. I just can’t fathom what it’s going to be like sitting at home watching Netflix on what was always the most magical night of the year.
Even during the years when I lived far from home and work schedules didn’t permit being at Mom and Dad’s for Christmas, we had our own party. In New York it wasn’t hard to scavenge up a house full of people who were free on Christmas Eve, either because they didn’t celebrate the holiday themselves or because their families were far away. That’s not going to work here. That pool of potential guests is non-existent.
Those evenings surrounded by other Christmas orphans separated from their families were some of the most special. Since I figured my friends were expecting a real Southern feast, I concocted a ham biscuit buffet consisting of both a huge baked ham with a bourbon glaze and a country ham along with loads of tiny little bite size biscuits with all kinds of herb infused mayonnaises and specialty mustards, cheeses and assorted other accoutrements. It was a great success. Except for my first attempt at biscuit making which was a mess. Also, I have never before today confessed to any of my Yankee guests of that evening that a ham biscuit buffet is not actually a thing.
As for my first stab at biscuits, I called Mom to ask her how to do it. Here I didn’t come home for her Christmas Eve party and then call her to ask for advice on how to give my own. Talk about adding insult to injury. Whether that is the reason she neglected to mention that she used self-rising flour or just didn’t know there was any other kind is still a bit of an open question. Needless to say, when made with the all purpose flour in my pantry, the tiny, tiny, very flat biscuits more closely resembled air hockey pucks than an actual baked good. Though baked, they were definitely not good.
All was not lost however as the totally bland, flat, hard “biscuits” were a perfect accompaniment to the little bit of caviar I had splurged on. Since I had neglected to make any blini, all the crackers I had were way too salty to go with caviar and I had certainly not bought enough caviar for a houseful of people to be lapping it up with spoons, the bland, hard biscuits sufficed. Thus, “redneck ossetra” was born, a dish that is very rare indeed.
Perhaps the most memorable part of those far away Christmas Eves was the large number of guests who were not of the Christian persuasion. When trying to put together a temporary family for Christmas Eve, it’s really good to have plenty of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus among your circle of acquaintance. Chances are, they’ve got nowhere to go and will welcome your invitation. At least, that was my experience.
As one of our Jewish friends was leaving, she said that it was so cool to finally see what really happened at Christmas. She had seen it in movies and on TV all her life but had never seen it from the inside and actually participated. She and her family enjoyed it all; presents, ribbons, bows, tree, lights, food, punch, gingerbread house, carols, fruitcake, eggnog, the whole nine yards. Seeing this night that was such a part of who I am through their fresh eyes was a magical experience.
The smoked pheasant that was supposed to serve as a kosher alternative to the ham was a bit of a disappointment but you can’t win them all. Here again, there could be a little remaining confusion among a small number of New Yorkers as to the frequency in which Southerners shoot pheasants through their back doors for holiday dinners.
Best of all, we were invited to Passover a few months later. A fresh batch of unleavened biscuits were right at home at Seder dinner. As an accompaniment to bitter herbs, they actually weren’t too bad.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699 or on Twitter @BillColvard.