Imagine it's Christmas Eve. Picture a nine foot Blue Spruce Christmas Tree in an open pentagonal shaped room surrounded by windows looking into our backyard filled with a quarter acre of green lawn that is fenced in with rhododendrons and hundreds of trees. On top of the Christmas tree stands a small, golden angel that used to belong to my grandmother. As a child, I was never tall enough to hang it (I still can't because I am so short. Even my brothers struggle to hang it, standing on a ladder). On the prickly branches hang dozens of ornaments, some even homemade (but my mom saves most of those for the tree no one ever sees in our living room). Around the base of the tree, a red, velvet skirt lies so the needles don't get stuck in the rug. My favorite ornament is a Barbie that is wearing a white gown with sparkles, with a fuzzy boa around her neck.
Christmas with my family always starts out trekking through rows of trees, sometimes going to several different Christmas tree farms to find the perfect tree for our picturesque scene. Sometimes we would get lucky and find the tree in 10 minutes, other times,it takes a good two hours. The worst was when it would rain or snow because we walk what seemed to be 10 miles (although it probably was only 1 or 2 miles at most). But one those days, we get hot chocolate on the way home. Sometimes, you have to lose some to win some.
We always hope it will snow for Christmas because there's nothing like waking up to a full sheet of powder, going downstairs wrapped in a blanket with the new slippers and pajamas I always get from Grandma, and having a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows (today, it's coffee I wake up to, but I will admit, I was a hot chocolate addict). There have been only two white Christmases I've seen. I've actually seen more white Thanksgivings than I have Christmases. I don't remember my first white Christmas, but I've seen the home videos my dad filmed. I was three. The best gift of I received was a white and purple play kitchen. My brother's best gift triumphed over all. He got a red Jeep Wrangler play car. I was pretty jealous of it based off the way I acted in the video. I think I was more excited for it than he was. My mom got mad because I wanted to ride in it first.
It isn't snowing on this Christmas Eve, as usual. We are on our way to my Aunt and Uncle's house in Milford like every year. The get together used to be small, just my family, grandma, and aunt and uncle, but recently the neighbors of of my uncle have been coming over to celebrate. In the back of the truck are cocktail meatballs and pierogi, which I've grown to love.
Pierogi are basically a Polish version of a ravioli, except there's typically mashed potato, cheese and onion inside instead of just cheese. Sauerkraut filled pierogi are also a specialty of my family. My grandma and mom usually make them together about a week before Christmas Eve. The whole process takes between two to three hours (it depends on how many they make. Normally they make about 70 pierogi give or take a few). The process includes making the dough, filling the dough with mashed potato, sauerkraut, or prune, then boiling them. Once the kitchen looks like the inside of a flour bag and the pierogies are finished boiling, they get soaked in butter and sauerkraut.
When we arrive at my uncle's, we are greeted with hugs and kisses. We're the first ones to arrive, even though we live furthest away. The neighbors are just a short walk over. We settle in, take our coats off, and get something to drink. One by one, the neighbors filter in, greeting each other and wishing each other "Happy holidays" (one family is Jewish). The table in the kitchen fills up with appetizers: fresh edamame, brie with crackers, a vegetable platter, roasted pecans my aunt made, and coconut shrimp. My uncle has made his famous pigs in a blanket. My brothers and I eat them all.
Now it's time for my Uncle to start the kielbasa.
We wait, excited to eat the butcher fresh kielbasa my Uncle cooks perfectly every time. He takes it off the grill. It's a fight to see who will cut it: my mom or him. He always wins. He puts the plump links onto the cutting board. One by one, the links become bite size pieces. The juice falls out, puddling the cutting board with delicious liquid. The outside of the kielbasa is an auburn red with a few black grill marks, while the inside is pink. We watch as our dinner approaches, our mouths watering. The kids always go first, so we get to pick the best. We're already full from all the appetizers we ate, but we don't care. We fill our plates with kielbasa, salad, and of course pierogi. It is a perfect meal.
Now it's time for dessert. Between cannolis, sugar cookies, and chocolate cream pie (my aunt's favorite thing to cook) it can be hard to decide what to take. I go for the sugar cookies because my brothers and I made them. My mom made the dough, but we helped make the shapes. There are Santas, reindeer, snowflakes, and snowmen. Some are the size of my hand, others only big enough for two bites. I eat both with a single crunch.
Baking cookies is another tradition that marks the beginning of the Christmas season. Every year ever since I can remember, we have made dozens of sugar cookies, snowballs, and Mrs. Reagan bars (a shortbread base with chocolate and raspberry jelly topped with a thin layer of flour). The Mrs. Reagan bars are my favorite because they have chocolate in them. My mom puts the cookies away, only to get mad when she sees us stealing from the cookie tins.
"Just ask me before you take one, please. We need enough for Christmas" she says.
By the time we're finished with dessert, it is already 9:30. We tell our mom and dad, "we need to get home before Santa gets to the house". They smile. We say goodbye to all the neighbors and my aunt and uncle, only to see them again the next day, except this time at our house. We are off. We sit in the truck, anxious to put our pajamas on and go to sleep.
We pull into the driveway, and mom asks "Do you want to leave some carrots outside for Santa's reindeer?" We nod our heads, with giant smiles on our faces. We run inside, grab a bag of carrots, and sprinkle them around the yard. We go back inside, put a plate of cookies out and a glass of milk for Santa, and go to bed in our new pajamas.
Christmas morning, 4:30 A.M. I leave my room to go to the bathroom and can feel the hefty stocking on my door as a turn the doorknob. It is filled beyond the brim. I wake up my brothers so we can open our stockings together. None of us slept because we were so excited to see what Santa left us. In my stocking, he left me a book I really wanted, covered in purple sparkles and a fairy on the cover. I also get a fake cell phone; purple with Princess Belle on it. All three of us get Nerds Rope and Reese's Christmas Trees. It takes us an hour to take everything out. We're so occupied with our stockings, that time flies. We gather into my older brother's room because he has a TV in it (it hardly works except for video cassettes). He puts on a movie while we wait for our parents to get up.
7:00 A.M. Neither of our parents are up yet so we bombard their room, excited to open our presents. They wake up, tired, but excited to see us. My dad gets his video camera and goes downstairs and says "Let me see if Santa left you any toys". My mom tells us to wait on the stairs. Every minute, we venture down one stair, getting closer and closer to the ground. My brothers and I pretend to talk on the cellphones we got until my mom comes over and says "It's time to open up presents".