When I was growing up there were a lot of traditions to be observed. Christmas had the bulk of these traditions.
On Christmas Eve my mother would be up at around half past five to begin a day spent in the kitchen and in the climbing heat.
In the early evening my father would gather all of us around the antique (and out of tune) piano and with sheet music in front of him, pound out some carols and we would all sing along. The lights on the Christmas tree would be tinkering and the candles would be lit and after the sing-a-long mum would disappear into the kitchen and return with a bouche de noel.
As Chgo John would say, the bouche de noel is ‘coming soon to a monitor near you’.
After the bouche de noel had been devoured with Christmas carols belting out from the record player (and we had about three records to choose from), we were allowed to open one present from under the tree. We had some American friends who every year sent us a decoration and so these were the presents we were allowed to open. These gifts were hung on the tree on the most noticeable branches and then it was off to church.
Yes, there was a midnight carol service except it didn’t start at midnight, it started at 11pm and finished at midnight with everyone (seeing it was now Christmas Day), hugging and kissing each other and sounding out, ‘Merry Christmas’. It would have been unbearably hot in the church with everyone fanning themselves with the evening’s program and many wondering why it was the stained glass windows couldn’t be opened to allow in a breeze.
After the service the minister would stand on the steps of the church and as you left you would shake his hand and wish him a Merry Christmas. We then stood around for ages chatting to friends and neighbours under the sparkling lights of conifer trees lit up for Christmas and any chance of a good night’s sleep quickly disappearing.
Christmas Day always started early and I think I hold the record for waking the earliest. We had Santa Sacks at the end of our beds and I think at around 3.30am I would wake to see if Santa had been. I would scurry down to the end of my bed to see if anything had been put in my Santa Sack. With unbelievable delight and a joy I was unable to contain, I would wake my two sisters (who shared my bedroom) to let them know, Santa had been.
Probably my parents had only laid down in bed a few minutes prior but alas, I was awake for the day. I was forbidden to open my presents before the first light of day but that didn’t stop me from dragging my Santa Sack from the foot of my bed up to my pillows where I pinched and squeezed every single gift ceaselessly until it was time to be allowed out of bed.
Christmas Day was hectic. And it started early. Earlier than my parents would have liked. We were allowed to open our presents from Santa but all other gifts had to stay wrapped. There was no time to open them; we had to get to church. So somehow dressed in something Santa had thoughtfully delivered, we would make our way to our 5-seater car for seven of us where my father was already tense as a board and revving the engine and honking the horn because we’d all taken so long to get ready (a long time is approximately two and a half minutes).
Once we were all accounted for we headed towards the local church that was but a few minutes away and once we arrived we discovered (as usual) that all the convenient parking spaces were taken, and so we’d have to beetle back – almost as far back as our own driveway.
We then had to sprint, (in the burning sun and our new high heels – Santa gift), down to the church where obviously, the service to glorify the arrival of our Lord, had already begun. The church was a stunning old sandstone building with incredible stained glass windows and old wooden pews and a long, long, long aisle. As luck would have it, every year we seemed to be the last to arrive.
The opening carol would be in full swing when we arrived at the entrance of the church. All eyes would turn to the late arrivals. All the seating at the back of the church would be taken leaving a front row, a newly formed front row in front of the regular front row (to allow for an extra swelling in the congregation) was spare.
My family of seven would have to do a ‘walk of shame’ down the entire length of the aisle as everyone winked and nodded and laughed at us as we passed by. My father was horrendously embarrassed and could never understand (to this day) why it was that his family was always the last to arrive.
After the service we had a ‘meet and greet’ and then went home to open the rest of the presents and get on with Christmas Day. One of the things my mother would have made on Christmas Eve is this Cherry Chutney. It is the best chutney ever and works so well with hot baked ham and freshly roasted turkey. When it’s cooking the aroma from the kitchen is wonderful and special and smelling of all things Christmasy. If it’s not cherry season in your part of the world, I’m sure this recipe would work equally well with frozen cherries – just make sure they’re pitted!
Makes: 2 cups
Degree of Difficulty: 2/5
Cost: Cherries are currently in season so now is the time to make this chutney. You don’t need to use the best of the best cherries, you can use the second-best type of cherries with no different outcome and then this will be a very affordable accompaniment. I bought 500gms (1lb) of cherries for $5.00.
- 1 large brown onion, chopped
- 2 medium Golden Delicious apples peeled, cored and chopped
- 2/3 cup castor sugar
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- finely grated zest of 2 good oranges
- 2 tspns grated ginger
- salt and ground cinnamon to taste
- 500gms (1lb) cherries, stoned
- 1/4 cup sultanas
- 8 white peppercorns
Put the onion and apples in a large stainless steel saucepan and bring to the boil with the sugars, juice, vinegar, orange rind and ginger. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer uncovered for 1hr and 15 mins or until thick and syrupy. Bottle while hot into sterile jars. Serve with baked ham or turkey or both!
This recipe has been adapted from a newspaper clipping from many years ago. The author of this recipe is unknown.
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