Home for Christmas

Santa's 2011 Chocolate Sleigh Contents Courtesy of CIA Student Clara Krueger

Clara Krueger, a charming young CIA (Culinary Institute of America) baking and pastry arts student, arrived fresh from her baking class. She brought with her this enchanting chocolate sleigh filled with festive fondant packages. I was delighted and astonished and greatly admired her accomplishment.

I was happy indeed when she gave it to me.

Clara’s gift reminded me of the time when we lived in a small suburban community in Long Island. It was an interesting neighborhood, a dormitory town for New York set around a bay.

It appealed to a wonderfully diverse group of people.

Some had lived there for ages and others were more recent arrivals. Many were from other countries, mostly European. The family living on one side of us was Austrian and neighbors on the other side were from Israel. There were French, Swedish and Irish families, and a lot of lovely mixtures. I, being British, formed one of these with my American husband.

Our first year, a quite spontaneous thing happened.

I remember that we, our children and two dogs, went next door carrying a lighted ship’s lantern that I had given my husband for his birthday a year or so before. We knocked on the door and sang a carol while we were waiting for our neighbors to answer it. I can’t sing at all, so this must have been a daring thing to do. I don’t remember now who even thought of it.

I do remember though, the delight in our friends’ faces and how we all decided to go to the next house together and sing another carol.  And so we did. The snowball snowballed until there were perhaps 60 or more of us.

We still talk about those times, with memories of little kids happy to be up late, dogs let off the leash, and flickering candles and lanterns and pockets full of warm gingerbread cookies one of the families had just baked.

The following year we organized things a little — though not too much — and when we got cold and had had enough, everyone came back to our house. We had a big pot of French onion soup and some Beaujolais Nouveau — it was the “in” drink at that time — and everyone brought the traditional treats of their own country.

I remember one of the older kids had made a lute, and she sat on the floor in front of the fire and the younger children sang with her.

Last evening, we had another little party to invite our neighbors to meet each other, many for the first time for our very own “tree lighting”. It was a simple affair — just hot chocolate (with the offer of a spike of bourbon or other spirit of the season) and, gingerbread cookies, mincemeat tarts and cider doughnuts. While the Christmas carols were ready for the singing, we decided to leave that tradition for next year.

What is old is new again: a tradition has begun. Onion soup next time!