The year has gone by so fast, I can’t believe it is almost Christmas. As I plan this year’s Christmas, I thought I would reflect on my families Christmas traditions.
Like most families, our traditions have evolved as our family has grown and changed. It used to be that my mom, an organist, and my dad, a mandolin player and singer, would have to leave the house no later than 10p to go to church to prepare for playing and singing in Midnight Mass. This created some complications since we have our main celebration on Christmas Eve. Not to mention, when we were kids we were allowed to open one gift on Christmas eve. Once we were older and had our own families, that’s when we share gifts with each other. So, if we need to eat dinner, clean up from dinner, open presents, clean up from the mess of presents, and get dressed for Midnight mass, dinner was changed to start around 5p.
Ok, fast forward to today, I’m used to 5p now, but in order to make it easier for everyone, we’re going to have it at our normal 6:30p Sunday Dinner time. We’ll see how late that takes us, but all our kids are little older now and should be able to handle staying up past 9.
So, we celebrate Christmas eve. Yep! We open presents Christmas Eve. Yep! Well, only the ones with each other. We still have the ‘santa’ presents on Christmas morning. But what about the food?
Well, the food traditions are pretty strict. Most of these traditions come from superstitions from my Mom’s family and maybe traditions from her Polish Heritage.
EVEN Number NOT!
The first tradition that we have to adhere to is that there cannot be an even number of dishes on the Christmas Dinner table. This does not include the dessert table, just what’s on the table for Christmas. So, before anyone eats, we count and make sure we have an odd number of dishes. If we don’t, we pull from the appetizer table, add or pull a dish, or even put my Mom’s Polish Nutroll out as part of the christmas dinner.
Next, NO POTATOES! Yep, that’s right. If we have potatoes on Christmas eve, we will be poor the next year. So, no potatoes. I think it’s worked for most of us so far.
Eat your Pickled Herring… NOT!
You have to eat Pickled Herring for good luck the next year. Well… I’ve never actually eaten the pickled herring, and I really feel like I have a wonderful life and feel lucky every day. So, you won’t see me munching down on some pickled fish. But, we have it on the table every year and my mom (before she passed) and my dad as well as a few siblings always have some. Maybe they’re helping the rest of us have good luck 🙂
It’s always about the crab
Well, now we start to go a little more eclectic. We always have Crab Casserole as our main dish. Yep, that’s right. Crab casserole. I am going to have to ask when/where this tradition started, but we’ve been celebrating this way for as long as I can remember. Doesn’t sound too strange yet, but wait… there’s more.
My mom’s Polish roots come through again, and we have to have Sauerkraut. I think it started when my grandmother passed away and my grandpa came to live near us. So, for Christmas eve he would join us. Well, he was very picky and only ate certain foods. So, he was not going to eat Crab Casserole. So, my mom added Pigs Feet to the Sauerkraut. But, my dad doesn’t like Pigs Feet, so she also started adding Pork Ribs to it. Now that my grandfather has long passed, we sometimes have pigs feet and sometimes not, but we always have the sauerkraut with pork ribs. This year? I’m planning on getting some pigs feet and we are going to forgo the pork ribs!
And with the sauerkraut, but only on Christmas eve, we have to have yellow split peas. Why? I don’t know, but it goes well when mixed in with the sauerkraut. Again, this is a must for the Christmas Eve dinner table. I’m guessing this comes from a time when my grandparents were poor and since there were no potatoes, something was needed as a ‘filler’. That became the split yellow peas. This maybe a longer rooted Polish tradition, I’m not sure.
Also, don’t forget, we have to have Polish Sausage. Sometimes it’s as an appetizer with my mom’s Spicy Cocktail sauce, sometimes it’s part of the main course. It just depends on our mood…
We used to have Cream of Mushroom soup every year, but not this year. From talking with my Dad, he said that my Grandmother always served a can of mushroom soup. He said it was cheap and that’s why she served it. But, looking around at some of the polish sites, I think it might be a traditional polish Christmas eve dish. As for our family, we started making it fresh as we got older. And since as my sisters and I love to cook, we took it as an excuse to try out different Cream of Mushroom soup recipes. This year, at my dad’s request, we’re going to go without the mushroom soup. I know I’ll miss having it, but my waist won’t!
Desserts! There can never be enough!
Now onto the desserts… there are so many!
We have to have Polish Nutroll. Mostly this was because my mom would make a double batch of her nutrolls to hand out to friends and family for Christmas. So, we would have a couple left over, one or two for Christmas eve and a couple for Christmas morning’s breakfast. We sometimes have them now, depending on if one of us has time to make them. This year my sister Judy has made them and frozen them already, so we are good to go!
Iced Sugar Cookies
Iced (and not Iced) Sugar cookies are another must. Never has my family cared about how cute they are (well, maybe when my sister and I were younger we’d try to make them cute, but i digress). We really just care about the flavor. These cookies are not as sweet as others which is one of the reasons we like them so much. I do love those ‘crack’ cookies they sell at the store that they call sugar cookies. But, my mom’s original cut out sugar cookies are just different and so so good. Thanks Judy for always taking on this one too!
Pizelle’s, aka Italian Waffles, was always pronounced by my family as “Pruitsails”, probably incorrectly. Thank goodness the internet exists so I know how to spell this crisp Anise flavored cookie. Similar to a Chinese Fortune Cookie in texture, these are one of those desserts where you can’t eat just one. They seem so light, it can’t be bad to eat a half dozen, right? Again, this was generally an Easter item, but my mom started making them on Christmas too to give away as gifts. So, we sometimes have them and sometimes we don’t.
And more, and more, and more cookies…
Peanut Butter Balls are another must. Like a peanut butter cup, but in a ball, these are one of my weaknesses.
Russian Tea Cakes are known by many different names. It’s a nutty drop cookie that is covered in powdered sugar. Just be careful not to breath in when you eat one of these so you don’t choke on the powdered sugar! Not a must have, but we like them.
Cinnamon Cuts I think were one of my Mom’s favorite. These are biscotti like in texture with 10x the amount of flavor. Cinnamon and raisins, lightly dusted with powdered sugar. Perfect for Christmas morning to dunk into your coffee.
Black & White kisses are a crispy meringue cookie that we usually have at Christmas as well. Definitely one of my favorites.
Then there’s the myriad of other cookies that we all seem to ‘need’ at Christmas time: Shortbread, Fudge Cookies, Mud Hens, Snickerdoodles. Oh boy. My mom was amazing and would bake all of these the week before Christmas. I’m so amazed every day with all she was able to do while raising 6 children.
I WANT PRESENTS!
So, after we eat, we clean up and then prepare for the present opening which will scare any other family away! We usually have at least 14 and as many as 22 at Christmas eve. If you are joining us, you will get presents, but you will not be sure what to think of our craziness. Because there’s so many, the present opening does get out of hand and it’s impossible to keep track.
My Dad always starts out and asks for one of the kids to be Santa’s helper. Usually it’s the youngest. He then asks for a present to be brought to him, he’ll read it and then have it passed to that person. But, within 5 minutes, presents are flying everywhere, kids are creating their pile, the adults are trying to keep the wrapping paper litter off the floor and my Dad, and before she passed my Mom, would just sit back and watch the mayhem ensue. Sometimes my Dad will tell us all to stop so we can open what we have and then pass out more.
Clean it up!
So, the presents are open and it’s time to clean up. There are always some open bottles of wine, tons of cookies being eaten and lots of hyperactive kids who are overstimulated, overtired and over-sugared up! But it’s all amazing and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
If you got this far, I hope you enjoyed this read. I’ve attached the recipes I have recorded so far below. By next year, many more of the recipes should be available as we’ll be writing them down and taking pictures this Christmas Eve.
Recipes Mentioned in this Article:
- Cherri’s Crab Casserole
- Pigs Feet & Sauerkraut
- Cherri’s Spicy Cocktail Sauce
- Cinnamon Cuts
- Black & White Kisses
- Fudge Cookies