Eatdrink #80 November/December 2019 - The Holiday Issue

eatdrinkmagazine

The LOCAL food and drink magazine serving London, Stratford & Southwestern Ontario since 2007

62 | November/December 2019

The Lighter Side

A Child’s Christmas

By MARK KEARNEY

eatdrink.ca |@eatdrinkmag

The art of being good at Christmas,

as I came to understand it as a child,

included helping Mom with the

upcoming feast.

It was always turkey, and it called for

dressing. (Some others called it “stuffing”

but it was “dressing” in our house.) My sister

and I would sit in the kitchen, a loaf or two of

bread and a large bowl facing us, and tear the

future dressing into small bits,

occasionally popping a stray piece

or two into our mouths. At that

point it was just bread, but we

knew come Christmas that with

the addition of onion, pepper and

perhaps other herbs with which

we had no familiarity, it would

taste tantalizing when scooped

from inside the roasted bird.

A few days later on Christmas

afternoon, with the turkey

ensconced in the oven, we would

spill onto our street in the village

eager to share stories of our lovely loot,

which now lay opened and scattered under

the exhausted tree. Chatting with friends, we

would get a taste of how everyone’s Christmas

had been so far, and how eagerly we were all

looking forward to the evening feast.

After one more inspection of our presents

before dinner, we gathered at the table. Bring

out the roasted turkey, the mashed potatoes,

the peas, the corn, the dressing, tomato juice,

wine for the adults, and the gravy — most

of all the glorious gravy. What is better as a

child than pouring the brown elixir that is

gravy onto the white meat, the dark meat, the

potatoes — oh, yes, smother the potatoes with

it — and watching it flow river-like through the

vegetables into a pool on the only tiny spot on

my plate that isn’t heaped with food?

We didn’t just eat the Christmas bird, we

attacked it as if it were the last we would ever

have. I’d tuck away my second helping before

my stomach had even acknowledged the first.

Yes, there would be sighs and groans later as

our bloated bellies rebelled, but it was always

worth it. For dessert there was no traditional

flaming pudding in our household, but instead

… birthday cake. December 25 was the date

of my brother’s birthday, so out came the

candled cake, always chocolate, and he’d make

a wish. (No doubt he craved any other day for

his birthday so that his gifts could be spread

out longer than 24 hours.)

The clock’s hands have moved relentlessly

forward since those early years,

and each Christmas blends into

the next and the next. Some gifts

more memorable than others,

some feasts better than previous

ones. Christmas Eve’s midnight

mass has long been replaced

by other rituals — traditional

tourtière for dinner and glasses

of wine followed by screenings

of A Christmas Carol or It’s A

Wonderful Life.

On those perfect occasions

with the drape of winter

darkness descended and the snow drowsily

dropping outside the window, I’m taken

back to those decades-ago days. Dry voices

from the past, as if carried in by a gentle

gust, whisper in my weary ears their tales

of Christmases past. Half-heartedly fighting

sleep, I recall snatches of long-ago village

gossip, a half-sung carol wafting over the

churchyard, delightful screams from a nearby

hill as children hurtle downward on the

toboggan ride of their lives, or the barely

stifled laughter of a rosy-cheeked boyhood

chum nestled beside me in a snow fort

plotting our next brave move.

And now, wrapped in the warm embrace

of midnight and memories of bygone times,

I slip softly to sleep, the promise of another

Christmas meal mere hours away.

MARK KEARNEY has been a journalist for more than

35 years and has been published in nearly 80 publications

in North America. He teaches writing and journalism at

Western University.

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