Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Christmas Eve in all the years of my marriage until the last few were always stressful for me. As an Episcopalian, I always look forward to the wonderful Midnight Mass at my parish church. The music was glorious, both from our wonderful tracker organ to our choir of over 40 well-trained voices. The church was decorated beautifully, and everyone was in a good mood, as we began with 1/2 an hour of carols. The church was packed, and it was standing room only.

However, Barbara is as Norwegian as one can be, considering she was born in Southern California. Celebrating Christmas Eve with feasting and distribution of gifts is an important part of her culture. For weeks before the event, she would be building up a supply of Norwegian food, including for many years some Lutefisk - cod preserved in lye. This requires soaking for several days, to eliminate the flavor of the lye. Barbara would complain that one could not obtain decent Lutefisk, even at Nordic House, where she did most of her shopping. There were many other Nordic items on her shopping list: Pickled herring, fishballs, lox on flatbread, gjetost (sweet, dark goat cheese), Jarlsberg cheese, and pressed lamb. She would also buy a huge box of Best Norwegian chocolates.

We would start the evening with egg nog, and move onto red wine. Barbara would always make delicious Norwegian meatballs, and (in addition to a salad with all the trimmings)and a lime jello, with cream cheese and pineapple. A favorite of son, Brian.We would then exchange gifts. There were usually 15-20 people present.

At some point, Santa (one of our sons) would appear, and distribute gifts to the kids. To avoid the need to purchase and wrap gifts for all the adults, we would draw names, so that each person could make a single gift, subject to a maximum prize, $50 until inflation encouraged us to increase it to $75. (We still practice this approach to gift-giving, there is no minimum value of the gift.Then would come dessert - pecan pie, pumpkin pie, julekake (a Norwegian lighter version of heavy fruit cake), all served with whipped cream.We always sang carols, usually unaccompanied, and everyone was having a fine time - and then I had to leave to be in time for less intimate carols and Holy Eucharist, just when I was wanting to stay with my loved ones. Something had to give, and a few years ago I learned to wait until the 11AM Christmas Day service, allowing me to stay at our house until all the guests had left, before going to bed.

Some years ago, Brian and Marlene began offering their home for Christmas Eve. They also introduced us to an additional "gift-exchange". One chooses some unwanted item, and wraps it up. All the wrapped gifts are then set out, and we all draw a number from a hat. No. 1 chooses first, and unwraps the gift. So it's identity is clear to all. No. 2 then has a choice of choosing another gift - or taking away the first gift from No. 1. As each number is called in turn, the same process is followed. As more "white elephants" are revealed, the taking of someone else's choice becomes more popular. No gift can change hands more than twice. This year, I first selected an emergency flashlight and a red triangle, to be used behind a disabled vehicle to warn upcoming traffic. But that choice was not to last: another player took it from me, requiring me to find a replacement. I was lucky: from the shape of the package, I correctly guessed that it contained a pound of See's candy, which I managed to hold onto until the end of the game.