The holiday season at the Singer household is a blend of traditions, some from my family, some from the Marital Unit’s family, and some that we’ve made up as we go. Since the MU and I are from different religious backgrounds, we have a lot to choose from. I’m Jewish, he’s Christian, and our children are Jewish but confused, since neither of us is particularly observant. Trying to make this situation work is an exercise in ingenuity, and occasionally frustration, and results in a holiday season that runs nonstop through December some years, compounded by my having the bad taste to produce a child in that month.
I fought having a Christmas tree for a long time, trying to compromise by swathing the houseplants in lights and garland, but it did dawn on me that MU’s traditions are as important as my own. We now have a tree every year, with all the presents, Chanukah and Christmas, under it. (See ‘confused children’.) Depending on how the solar calendar and the lunar calendar overlap, the tree may be decked in blue and silver, or red and gold. Every year we hang the special ornaments, which we buy to commemorate events, family jokes, trips, and interests. The enameled blue crab stands for a vacation in Mexico; the pickle ornament is a family signal that Mom’s patience has come to an end. The gold violins with crystals were for the three musicians in the family, though the boys have since opted for six-inch guitars and a music box amplifier to show their own path. A silver-plated twig of lodgepole pine marks Eden Winters’ visit. There are many more, and they trace our lives.
MU has bent to accommodate my traditions, probably more than I have to his. He’s learned to enjoy the latkes and to wear a yarmulke for blessings, and he certainly doesn’t mind eight nights of receiving gifts. Gefilte fish remains a sore point. A Seder is fine, but must we really change out the entire kitchen? Christmas dinner is one I bend to, especially since I like a feast as well as the next m/m author, but I don’t make it quite the way his mother does. Spinach soufflé, for one thing.
This involves, besides the obvious, saltines and Cheez Whiz. It comes out tasting better than it sounds here, but I can’t get past the notion of cooking with plastic cheese, let alone putting it on the table next to a turkey. He tells me, “Make up your mind. Either it’s plastic and parev, or it’s cheese and therefore real food.” Parev is neutral and can go with either milk or meat — we don’t keep kosher though the primary chef, me, does not mix the two. We compromise: he makes it, we eat it. Even me. I try not to think about it. Spinach soufflé has been a staple of MU’s holidays for as far back as he can remember, and so, of course, it is the same for our kids. They have the added delight of knowing my opinion of Cheez Whiz, and overlook the presence of green vegetable in their glee at making me watch them eat it.
However, my darling MU was raised to think that cranberries reside exclusively in tin cans, and I was raised to the sound of the fresh berries popping as they cooked. Primary chef makes fresh cranberry sauce, and also, because I love him, I open a can. It all gets eaten.
I use my mother’s recipe, which I also wrote into the Landon family’s traditions, and it figures heavily into my holiday story. Very simple, very fast, and delicious.
12 oz bag fresh cranberries
¾ cup sugar (Adjust to taste, this is a bit tart)
1 orange, zested, and the fruit chopped fine
1 cup water
1 ounce (1 shotglass or two tablespoons) of orange liqueur — Cointreau, Grand Marnier, or good Triple Sec all work. Orange Curacao doesn’t. Maybe it’s the color and not the taste – how dare it be blue?
Mix sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Add cranberries, orange zest (grate just the orange layer of skin off the fruit with the finest teeth on the grater) and the chopped orange. Reduce heat and simmer for twenty minutes. Cool. Just before serving, stir in the liqueur.
MU and I had to find our way as a couple, and then a family, and a couple in a romance has to do the same. Jake and Kurt don’t have the same set of challenges, since I wrote them both vaguely Christian, but they do have their own set as they meld their futures. The holidays tend to bring out in full relief problems that remain in the background during most of the year. For us, it’s religion. For Jake and Kurt, it’s “how far out of the closet is Jake willing to come?”
For their first appearances, in “Fire on the Mountain” and “Snow on the Mountain” the answer changes from “not even touching the door handle” to “standing in the doorway and not flinching if someone looks.” Now, it’s Christmastime, and while Kurt is a patient man, he’s approaching the pickle moment, in our household lingo.
And that is the point of “Mistletoe on the Mountain,” my holiday short story: where do patience and ability to fulfill hope intersect? Like our pastiche of a Christmas tree, there has to be some compromise, but where on the continuum shall it be? Jake and Kurt have no problem working out how to celebrate the holiday — it’s the issue that lurks year round that troubles them.
Our family has more intense issues than many when it comes to traditions, because of our disparate backgrounds, but surely we aren’t alone when it comes to evolving customs that suit us all. What traditions have you evolved so that your family, however you define it, is happy?
Mistletoe on the Mountain (This short story comes with a bonus novel: if you pick up the short you get Snow on the Mountain with it. 😉 )
Jake’s agonizing over what to give Kurt for their first Christmas together—he knows what Kurt wants most can’t be gift wrapped.
Our hop is almost done, with one more stop at the group blog, where we have goodies! Leave a comment to win a $50 gift card.