Some families make intricate plans for Christmas Eve dinner, bringing together generations, breaking out the good china, dressing up in adorable sweaters and glazing festive cookies. Not my family.
I’m from what you might call a typical East Coast upper middle class late 20th century family. As such, divorce, dispersement and other roadblocks got thrown in the way of any Norman Rockwell-esque aspirations, and somewhere during this evolution, holiday plans got mad casual. As in, maybe I’ll have a Christmas Eve dinner with my dad’s side of the family, or my mom’s, or I’ll check out and hit a tropical island.
If that sounds kinda sad, well, it’s not to me. And in fact, as I was editing some of our Christmas recipes for this site, I began to realize that I actually did have something of a traditional Christmas Eve dinner throughout the years. Not every year, but often enough that the sight of these recipes reminded me that while I may not come from a traditional family, that doesn’t preclude us from having family traditions.
I have to give most of the credit to my aunt, my father’s younger sister, who came up with the mainstay dish: A delicious and decadent Beef Wellington. It’s always been the star of the Christmas Eve menu whenever our family has gathered at her home. My stepmother, I think, added lasagna into the mix at some point; at least, I have a vague recollection of always carefully carrying two trays of the cheesy stuff to the car for the drive to my aunt’s. I know there are other things that pop up on the menu — a salad, some veggies, lots of bread. To be honest, it’s been a few years, and all I remember is that beef wrapped in puff pastry and eating too much lasagna.
Oh, there is one other thing I remember. One year, my aunt tried to add a new tradition to the mix. She proudly went out and scored an intricate-looking dessert known as the English trifle. It was a gelatinous, whipped cream–covered mess of a thing, and the minute we all tried it we realized that it was a misfire. Maybe the bakery had made it wrong, or it just wasn’t a good way to follow a rich meal of pastry-covered meat and gooey, cheesy pasta, but this thing was awful. We usually drink a lot of wine, so the memory is a bit hazy, but I think it was eventually agreed that someone from our family would return this monstrosity to whence it came with a note demanding a refund, or at least expressing a nasty, un-Christmas-like sentiment.
Other than that hiccup, Christmas Eve dinners at my aunt’s are generally a touching memory for me, sporadic as my attendance has been. We may not be the perfect nuclear family, and we certainly don’t gather ’round the fire to sing Christmas carols, but when there’s a Beef Wellington on the table with a lasagna riding shotgun, plus a few close relatives around, what more can a guy ask for?
What’s your traditional Christmas or Hannukah meal? Share your menus and memories in the comments. And happy holidays!