Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Grandma's Christmas Eve Dinner - An Evolving Tradition

Last week, Slate ran an article about the downfall of the recipe card. For some reason, it whipped up a frenzy of nostalgia in me. While the author mocked the holly berry cookies her mom used to make, it made me instantly crave them -- by the way, this year I'm declaring those holly berry cookies to be retro chic and a holiday must. The next day, I went to the grocery store and loaded up on cornflakes, food coloring and marshmallows. The result has been delicious, though my husband was a bit disturbed by the manic cookie-making that overtook me and our entire kitchen...

Okay, back to the main point of the article... The author fondly remembers the grease-spattered recipe cards, that often represent a bit of family history. It got me thinking about the oyster dish my grandma used to make every Christmas Eve. My family had few food traditions, but that is one that has stuck with me. Sadly, none of us ever got the recipe from her while she was alive and I have no idea what happened to her recipe cards after she died. Not only that, but none of us ever thought to ask her why it was that she made breaded, fried oysters for Christmas Eve every year. I did a few Google searches, trying to find out if it was a Swedish tradition, but didn't find anything, so the reasons seem to be gone along with her. While that recipe is gone, I've decided to bring back Christmas Eve oysters this year -- with my own touch. I'll be making Oysters Rockefeller. Part of me thought I should try my best to create Grandma's dish, but then I decided that a tribute to her with my own spin might be better. I never thought to ask her to teach me how to make them while she was alive, so I know they'll never really be "Grandma's."

Thus, the tradition will evolve. And, maybe that's as it should be. While so many of us love traditions, they all seem to slowly change and morph over the years. Even the traditions I've created for myself have changed bit by bit. I love, love, love Christmas movies and watch a whole slew of them every year. This year though, I noticed that some of the movies I used to watch annually (like White Christmas and Miracle on 34th Street), I now only watch every other year or so. Also, new movies like Love Actually (it's terrible, but I love it so) and The Holiday (plot aside, I could drool over Cameron Diaz's wardrobe and Kate Winslet's house every year) have found their way into the mix. Maybe the importance of the traditions isn't doing it exactly as it's always been done, but keeping the original spirit and thought alive in the tradition.

The mystery over my Grandma's oyster dish has made me realize that while I'm okay with traditions evolving, I really regret not having learned that bit of family history while I had the chance. It's gotten me interested in learning more about my genealogy. I know some about my mom's side of the family, but virtually nothing about my dad's side. I know that on my mom's I've got Swedish, Irish and Scottish ancestry. But, I don't know what that ancestry is on my dad's side -- though I think there's some German in there, and maybe some English... I've decided that in 2012, I want to spend time going through the family documents and archives that exist and talk to the family members who are likely to know the most about the family history while I have the chance. Has anyone else ever delved into geneaology?

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