Every Christmas was a white Christmas when I was growing up in suburban Los Angeles in the late 1960's and early 70's.
Though my parents raised my brother and me without any religion, for some reason we always celebrated Christmas. Without any religious back story to give the holiday meaning, Christmas devolved into just 3 traditions: going to the mall to sit on a fat bearded man's lap (pictured left), getting presents, and decorating the house. Most of my memories revolve around that last one, which in our house meant decking the halls with boughs of plastic.
I grew up in the iconic, mid-century, single-story Modernist LA suburban house built by my father. My mother filled the floor-to-ceiling glass window lined space with all the furniture that, much to my amusement, is once again the height of fashion. Knoll tulip chairs sprouted out of the terrazzo floors in the eating area, while a black leather Eames chair reclined in the den. My mother coordinated everything, from the bean bag and Knoll butterfly chairs down to the place mats, in three colors: red, black and white.
Every year about 2 weeks before Christmas, my father fetched the cardboard boxes marked "Xmas" from the makeshift storage area perched above the brown Ford Grand Torino station wagon in the garage. He would carry the boxes into the living room and carefully lay them on the carpeting.
Step one was to assemble the tree. Dad pulled out of the box the central metal post (which became the "trunk") and the wire and white plastic "branches," which he arranged by length, the longer pieces forming the lower portions of the "tree" and the shorter the upper part. Next, he untangled the wires of blinking white lights and slipped them over the branches. Then, he strung the strands of silver beads from branch to branch. Mom took over the next job of placing the red and silver balls and the twisted glass icicles on the tree. Then, my brother and I put on the fun ornaments, which were, of course, color coordinated to match the rest of the house. Dad returned for the final step, placing on the tip of the tree the white angel with the light bulb screwed into its back.
When we were finished, our living room was transformed into a set from a John Waters movie. The fake white tree (1969 version pictured right) grew out of the white shag carpeting, its electric white lights illuminating the white velour sofas, white walls, and white curtains that surrounded it. I forget what age I was when I finally realized that the famous Bing Crosby song was referring to snowfall on Christmas day, not the whiteness of our living room.
Our one food-related tradition occurred every Christmas Eve. Because Mom would be spending hours the following day constructing a Christmas feast (different every year), Christmas Eve was her day off and always featured the same food bought from a local deli. Dad ceremoniously lit a fire in the fireplace, never a necessity in LA, and then we sat on those white sofas and chairs next to that tree and nibbled on a tray of sliced meats and cheeses, shrimp cocktail, pickles, celery sticks, and, the highlight for us kids, little hot dogs wrapped in Pillsbury croissant dough. We dipped our pigs-in-the-blanket in ketchup and toasted the holidays with glasses of Martinelli's sparkling cider. I remember how special I felt to be sitting on those white sofas that were usually off limits to my brother and me, solely reserved for my parents' notorious late night cocktail parties and bridge games.
Neither N nor I are practicing Christians, so we never truly celebrate Christmas. We've only decorated our house once, a couple of years ago when we threw a holiday party. Last night, on Christmas instead of Christmas Eve, as a nod to my parents, who are both no longer with us, we bought some nice meats and cheeses from our local deli. We replaced the ham, turkey, and roast beef of my childhood with a platter of our own favorites, like Spanish jamón serrano, duck liver pâté, locally made Molinari salami, Spanish oil-packed anchovies, and smoked sturgeon. We savored some Spanish olives I marinated and the last of the yellow wax beans I pickled. For dessert, we tucked into some Basque Garrotxa cheese, membrillo, toasted hazelnuts, and plenty of Della Fattoria bread.
Then we toasted our glasses of champagne to family, friends, memories of holidays past and to holidays yet to come.
(Although I am a few days off for some events) I wish you all a happy holiday season! Happy Solstice! Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanzaa! And even a Happy (belated by a few days) Birthday to me! Cheers to all!