Like most people, I spent the Christmases of my young adulthood celebrating someone else’s holday, first, as an extension of my childhood with my parents, then splitting the time with them and my inlaws, and later, as a single parent, with my sister. It wasn’t until my late thirties when I bought a house a day’s ride from my family that I decided we would create our own holiday, in our own house, and make our own traditions. Oh, we would still travel to see each other over the vacation, but Christmas, and the planning and preparations, would be our own.
That first year, friends invited us for dinner on Christmas Eve. It was an unusual dinner, curry, and an unusual group, a family from Dublin, and little Drew and me. That was in 1987, and Drew and I have been eating Christmas Eve curry with our dear friends ever since, now with Jack and Ericka as well. Somewhere along the way I started making samosas for the dinner and as time went on the four of us cranked out those crispy pastries like a well-oiled machine.
Meanwhile, when Jack and I got married in 1990 we decided to host his family for dinner Christmas Day. It was a stretch in our little house where more than four for dinner was tight, and where our tiny kitchen made cooking anything more than spaghetti an acrobatic feat. To make things more complicated, I’m a life-long vegetarian, and I wanted to serve a vegetarian meal to meat-eaters that was memorable and festive. And so began a 20 year run of usually ethnic ‘theme’ dinners, from Mexican tamales to Italian filled pastas to Ethiopian wats to dishes of the Silk Road to Indian curries.
We celebrated Hanukkah with latkes, and the occasional St. Lucia Day with Swedish saffron buns. We drank a lot of hot mulled cider. We made pans of Philadelphia sticky buns that Jack and Drew delivered to our friends on Christmas Eve morning.
You can see that the holidays are for us about food and family and friends. We’re not Christian, so we don’t celebrate Christmas Day as the birth of Jesus, but we do celebrate the precious hours we have with the people we love, and the last week of the year is a perfect time to come together and make memories.
This year, a lot has changed. One of our Irish friends is gone. Drew and Ericka have moved away. We sold our house and can no longer call Pittsburgh home. For the past two weeks we’ve driven nearly 3500 miles shopping for a new floating — moving — home. We’ve had no saffron buns, no latkes, no sticky buns, no mulled cider. I haven’t spent the last four months planning a Christmas feast. We have no tree, no lights, no stockings at the fireplace.
We drove back to Pittsburgh for Christmas because we can’t imagine Christmas Eve without curry and the Cassidys. Drew and Ericka drove back for the same reason, and yesterday we learned that Ericka has taken up the mantle of samosa-maker and plans to make them every year from now on. That simple act has overwhelmed me with joy to know that one of our fondest holiday traditions, one that Drew and I carved out of nothing, will go on even without the house where it started.
Christmas Eve we’ll be eating curry and missing our dear friend. Christmas Day we’ll be at the Schulzes’, once again celebrating in someone else’s house, but we’ll enjoy their traditions and celebrate our precious hours together and make memories. Next year, who knows what the holidays will bring. There will be new traditions, new foods, new friends.
But I’ll still want samosas.