A Christmas tradition at our house is the extended family Christmas dinner in which my aunts, uncles and cousins as well as friends of the family get together for a big dinner party, exchange Christmas gifts and often gather around the piano and sing. As our family gains new members, we add their traditions to the mix. Although Wendy was at last year’s party, she’s a full-fledged family member this year, and since Chanukah and Christmas are close to each other (and even overlap this year), we added Jewish traditions to the mix.
“Where can we put the menorah, Mom?” I asked, unpacking the stuff we brought to the party.
“Make some room for it on the mantel,” she said.
I moved a couple of items aside and placed the menorah in the newly-created space.
“What do you think?” I asked Wendy.
She examined the new arrnagement of objects on the mantel and smiled.
“A menorah, placed between a nativity scene and a giant statue of the Virgin Mary. That’s excellent!” and made the “thumbs up” sign.
Prior to dinner, we gathered in the living room to say a quick Grace, which was then followed by the menorah lighting. Wendy lit the candles, and both she and Jessie (a friend of the family, and the other Jewish woman married to an Asian man at the party) recited the prayers.
Dinner, like my family, came from all over. Among the dishes were:
- Latkes, prepared by me and Wendy following Wendy’s mom’s recipe. This was the first year that Latkes appeared at the Christmas party, and it was the first dish to be completely eaten up.
- Philippine-style ham, slow-roasted in a sweet and sour beer-based sauce, cooked by Mrs. Patricio, a long-time friend of the family and wife of one of the principal sponsors (a Filipino tradition) at our wedding.
- Shrimp egg rolls, cooked by Jamie, my cousin by way of common-law marriage, who is Vietnamese.
- Lengua, a Filipino stew made of ox or beef tongue in a savoury mushroom sauce, prepared by Uncle Mars and Auntie Patty.
- Chocolate cheesecake made by my Aunt Kaye, who is of Scots descent.
I mentioned that at next year’s party, my cousin Kara will have already married her Irish fiance Ryan (who’ll move here) and that I’ll make sure we have some Guinness on hand. I also got a nice Christmas card from my Korean in-laws and mentioned that my cousin Barb in Ohio — who’s from the Irish-American branch of the family (we’re related through my great-grandfather, James O’Hara) — was asking for some information so she could complete her family tree research. Late that evening after everthing wound down, we got a long-distance call from Glasgow with a woman who spoke with a thick Scottish brogue. It was Aunt Reenie, who was asking to speak to Aunt Kaye, who had already left.
If variety is the spice of life, our family is one hot tamale.