One of my family’s more unique Christmas traditions ordinarily takes place sometime between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. We call it simply “the Catastrofeast.” In short, everyone collects unusual recipes they’ve never tried and we go wild. (Creating fine cuisine does not seem to run in our family; just last night Lynnette and I spent hours trying to produce something remotely edible to give to our neighbors. We joke that the bishop will be contacting the Zelophehad family shortly and asking that we please find some way other than cooking to share our talents with the ward.)
In the past we’ve tried several methods for unveiling and sampling the mystery dishes–sometimes auctioning them off, sometimes playing “musical dishes” and passing them around the table (you’re allowed to sample whatever you’re holding when the music stops), sometimes ordering from a menu. But always the dishes are given code names: Leviathan Bait, Goblin Growth Hormone, Tauntaun Fodder, Death in a Pot. Ever since we started this tradition there have been eclairs, now universally referred to in our family by their original code name as “Crime Stoppers.”
The year we initiated this tradition, we assured my rather wary mother that it would be a “nice meal.” Little did we suspect that my younger sister Amalthea was planning to contribute Baloney-Os, replacing the frosting in Oreos with baloney. (Lynnette paid Melyngoch a dollar to eat one.)
When we were younger, a less structured but no less elaborate tradition involved arguing literally for hours over where in our living room to put our Christmas tree. My brother Ziff and I thought we were hilarious when we made suggestions like putting the tree on a miniature roller coaster and having it ride around the room, or installing trees with rockets in them in the corners of the ceiling, and then playing “Dodge the Tree” and running around the room as the trees randomly launched. (Okay, so we’re not the most practically minded bunch. This is, of course, why it took hours to reach a decision that was actually feasible.)
When we were kids our mother would hide each of our main Christmas presents somewhere in the house, and leave a trail of clues in the form of riddles around the house, putting the first clue in our stockings. One at a time, youngest to oldest, we’d be allowed to hunt for our treasures. As we got older we started drawing names and writing each other’s treasure hunts. The first year we did this it was a disaster. More fateful words than “make it as hard as possible” may never have been uttered, and twelve hours into the treasure hunts, when our in-laws had come over and were begging us to finish up so we could open the presents under the tree, several missions had to be aborted mid-hunt and the locations of the treasures revealed. (We should have known we were in trouble when Lynnette announced, several days before Christmas, that by her calculations Amalthea would find her treasure on December 27th).
Although I do have fond memories, a few years ago, of lowering Melyngoch’s present down from the ceiling just as she finished solving the last clue, since then we’ve transformed the treasure hunts into a complicated board game we play Christmas morning.
Like many families, we ordinarily produce constructions out of graham crackers and candy sometime during the Christmas season. Perhaps less like other families, these constructions are rarely houses. Sometimes they’re buildings, such as sackbut conservatories or dinosaur museums, but as often as not they’re bizarre conglomerations whose identities are decided not before but after they’re finished. (Was Elbereth the one who made a gingerbread garbage dump?) My best creation of all time was an R2 unit with a bad motivator, but unfortunately the rather unstable motivator fell off when someone walked by and jostled the table.
We have a history of failing to label the presents when we wrap them, or writing things like “To: Luke’s Tauntaun, From: Darth Maul Motorbikes Inc.,” which makes Christmas evening (when we open our presents, very slowly, one at a time) all the more exciting. For several years I’ve suggested leaving all tags off altogether, opening the presents randomly, and then trying to guess who each present is to and from, but my sisters maintain this would likely result in fistfights.
I think probably all of my siblings went through a phase at some point or other when wrapping presents in such a way so as to disguise them was an elaborate art form into which a lot of thought was put. My mother acted horrified several years ago when one present, when its wrapping paper was torn off, was revealed to be a cushion from the couch. (Amalthea had unzipped it and put the present inside.) Of course, no one had even noticed the cushion was missing.
But my favorite tradition of all is filling each other’s stockings, where the most exciting and unusual presents are put. The only sad thing is, there’s really very little at this point that would be shocking anymore, after the pickled pigs’ feet, the chocolate-covered spiders, the inflatable Jar Jar chair, the wind-up nun that spits fire.
What are your family’s favorite Christmas traditions? Or, alternatively, what are your fondest Christmas memories? Did you pay your little brother to tell you what he was giving you? Did you trick your little sister into giving you two presents? Did you hit your older sister over the head with part of a doll high chair and give her a concussion on Christmas Eve?
- 21 December 2006