The holidays are finally over.
I am fortunate because I spent this holiday season visiting my parents, now in their eighties, celebrating in much the same way I have all my life. I appreciate the holiday traditions, particularly the traditional family worries.
There is the time-honored tradition of my father worrying I have purchased too many flowers for the centerpiece. Each year, as I start assembling the flowers, my father frets, “You have way too many flowers. You won’t use half of them!”
The fact that I use every flower every year does not deter him from issuing this warning and I now feel Christmas would be incomplete without it.
Then there is my mother’s day-before-Christmas wardrobe conundrum. Wardrobe dilemmas are common, but my mother’s worry is precisely the same every year. She always wears a beautiful velvet jacket and the skirt varies from year to year, but the boots… the boots are a traditional problem.
“Are these boots dressy enough?” she asks me every year. And every year I respond, “Yes, they look great with a longer skirt.”
We then proceed into a conversation about how she doesn’t like short skirts and how longer skirts tend to be too long, but first the pressing issue of the boots must be resolved and—every year—it is.
Lastly, and most essentially, we have the traditional worry about the pudding. Charles Dickens wrote about pudding worries in “A Christmas Carol,” so I have to assume they are a venerable tradition the world over.
In my family, we serve rice pudding along with the traditional noxious-smelling Norwegian lutefisk. My Norwegian grandmother always made the pudding. She faithfully worried about it every year. “Is the rice tender? I’m afraid it’s not quite right.”
We knew these worries were needless as my grandmother had been making the pudding for longer than any of us had been alive. But when she died, we were left with cryptic instructions and no clear successor. That’s when the real worrying began.
The first year after my grandmother’s death, my aunt made the pudding. She emerged from the kitchen and announced with uncustomary drama, “I cannot make this pudding and I don’t know why! I have the credentials!”
My aunt was not kidding. In addition to being a famously talented hostess, she had a university degree in home economics, so the food science involved in a four-ingredient dish should not have been beyond her considerable talents. I wondered if grandma had deliberately left out some vital ingredient so we would miss her more than we already did. We tried to cheer my aunt, but it was not Christmas pudding.
The next year, my brother-in-law stepped in. My brother-in-law is a fabulous cook and always willing to take on new challenges. He decided to sidestep the tricky recipe and find one that was more foolproof. The pudding was delicious. But it was not Christmas pudding.
Finally, my mother (who is not even Norwegian) took over pudding duties. I thought this was fantastically brave as my mother is neither a daredevil in the kitchen, nor does she possess the prerequisite credentials. But somehow, my mother succeeded.
Of course, we still must worry every year. My grandmother has been gone for many years now and my mother is starting to get a bit over-confident about the whole thing. This year, she told me there was nothing to worry about! I knew this could only bring trouble.
I was right. The pudding was great—and the lutefisk was a disaster. But then, it was lutefisk, so no one noticed.
Till next time,
Carrie Classon’s memoir, “Blue Yarn,” will be released in April 2019. Learn more at CarrieClasson.com.