Sunday, 30 December 2012

Christmas at Our Place

An early days Christmas at my dad's
 One of the things I love about Christmas is all the different ways people around the world celebrate it. In our family our main celebration is on Christmas Eve. We have a celebration steeped in Danish tradition with some German overlay. 
My mother Lise with Young son Torsten looking pleased about not cooking - note its a family tradition to wear red on Christmas Eve
 My mother being Danish and my father German we always celebrated Christmas Eve with my mother cooking traditional Danish fare. Once they separated my mother declared that she had spent the last 27 years cooking and she wasn’t going to waste any more time cooking! My father promptly took over the cooking when he remarried including cooking the Danish Christmas dinner.
R being the Master Chef
  When I married R always cooks the Danish Christmas Eve dinner when we are not with family.  I’m not sure exactly why the Danish tradition seems to be the pervasive one but my theory is that it’s because it’s what the Danes call ‘hyggelig’ – it has a cosy ambience and as you know ambience is everything.
Hyggelig atmosphere in the evening - homemade stocking hanging redy for the next morning - note the good Queensland Cassowary painting and we normally add a pineapple to the table for a bit of Queensland decoration at Christmas
  There is also a fun game of find the almond in the rice pudding and win a marzipan prize that brings out everyone’s inner competitiveness and of course the simple fact that you don’t have to wait all the way til the next morning for your main presents like those long suffering English which also means you don’t get pestered by rampaging children at some ungodly hour of the morning. You can all have a nice sleep-in after all the excesses of the previous night, arise at a civilised hour (after 9am) with the kids sitting on the end of your bed and opening their ‘little presents’ in their stockings and then partake of a relaxed breakfast of croissants, coffee, berries,  bacon & eggs. 
Christmas Day breakfast - we missed second daughter this year as she was in London
 Anyways, for us Christmas begins 4 Sundays before Christmas Eve when the first of the 4 Advent candles is lit on the Sunday evening after dinner and accompanied by coffee, cognac, marzipan & German gingerbread cookies. The following Sunday 2 candles will be lit and so on. On the night of the 5th of December everyone sets to polishing their boots so a boot each can be placed outside the door for Saint Nikolaus to fill. In the morning it’s St Nikolaus Day the 6th December and everyone races out to collect their boots and see what the boot has been filled with. For good kids there is marzipan and German cookies, or naughty kids there is sticks and often there is a combination! When the children were quite small first daughter Venus snuck out and switched the bag of goodies for sticks in second daughters boot and when India discovered this in the morning there was such a caterwauling.  Curiously I was deprived of this German tradition growing up. It wasn’t til my parents separated that my dad decided to introduce it.

Boots out for St Nik
  In Europe most people do not work on Christmas Eve or at least not after midday when all the shops shut so people can get home and prepare their Christmas Eve dinners. Here in Australia we always remind the children to make sure they tell their employers in advance that we celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve and so they can’t work after midday on the 24th. Christmas Eve starts around 18:00 with a glass of champagne at the family gathering. Dinner consists of roast pork with crackling (there’s NEVER enough) red cabbage and fluffy boiled potatoes tossed in butter and brown wine sauce. This is accompanied by beer or wine and a shot of that infamous Danish alcohol Akvavit, preferably the original red Aalborg Akvavit which is caraway flavoured. This is served in tiny Akvavit glasses. Everyone holds up their glass, the head of the table proposes the toast (the first toast is ALWAYS to the Queen of Denmark) and everyone says ‘To the Queen of Denmark, skål!’ and proceeds to throw back the shot in one go. At 60% alcohol content everyone’s crissed as a picket by the third round! 
Christmas Dinner at my dad's in Popanyinning with akvavit

Next we move on to the fun part with the serving of dessert. This is Ris à l'amande (Rice with Almonds)
(also spelled as Risalamande) from the French riz à l'amande meaning "rice with almonds"; Danish: ris med mandel). Risalamande was created in the last part of the 19th century. It is made out of rice pudding mixed with whipped cream, vanilla, and chopped almonds; and is usually served cold with a cherry sauce (kirsebærsauce).
Risalamande with cherry sauce
A similar traditional Danish Christmas dish, risengrød, (known to the English as rice pudding) is essentially risalamande before the whipped cream, vanilla, and almonds have been added, and is typically served hot, topped with cinnamon and butter. Nowadays, it is very common to make a large batch of rice pudding for dinner on lillejuleaften ("Little Christmas Eve", i.e. December 23), a part of which is kept until Christmas Eve and used to make the risalamande. Normally, a whole almond is added to the dessert, and the person who finds it wins a small prize — such as a chocolate heart, a marzipan pig, or a toblerone bar. Part of the game involves the finder concealing his discovery as long as possible, so that the rest of the company is forced to eat the entire dish of risalamande, even after they have already devoured a large Christmas dinner. I think I already told you the story of R’s first Christmas with us and the first year my dad cooked the risalamande when it turned out like cement but R valiantly soldiered through an entire bowl of the stuff that even Ben our St Bernard wouldn’t touch! This story is recounted every year at Christmas with much hilarity and is referred to as the ‘Litmus test for potential partners’.  Somehow certain members of the family have managed to sneak past our other litmus test, the ‘do you like marzipan?’ one. Both my step-brother Kevin and my brother-in-law Chris ‘can’t stand the stuff’ – we all look at them with pitying glances as if they’re suffering from some unfortunate disease. 
My dads family - the marzipan hating mutants are in the lighter check shirts -hmm maybe there's something in that
 After dinner we adjourn to the lounge room where the Christmas tree is lit up beautifully. One is supposed to sing Christmas carols and dance around the tree holding hands but we usually forego this step because the little kids are dying to open their presents by this stage. It is the job of the youngest to hand out the presents and after coffee, cognac, marzipan and German cookies are served (of course in Denmark Danish butter cookies ‘småkage’ marzipan mini cakes ‘kransekage’ or my favourite cardamom flavoured twisted biscuits ‘klejner’ would be served 
Freshly baked klejner
Traditional Danish paper heart woven from red and white paper

Kransekage traditionally also served on New Yers eve
(note these are quite difficult to make and the last time I had them was in 1992 in Copenhagen when we happened to be there just before Christmas; the time before that was in 1988 before my parents separated when they arrived at my house in Margaret River, my mother bearing a plate laden with freshly cooked klejner – hmmm, heaven on a plate!)
On Christmas day R will normally cook a traditional English Christmas dinner of roast turkey, potatoes and five different vegetables such as pumpkin, broccoli, peas, squash  and carrots served with gravy.  If we are visiting the family in Western Australia, then R’s mum and dad will usually cook the Christmas day lunch. 
Christmas day at R' parents
This is followed by R’s mum’s wonderful trifle, steamed Christmas fruit pudding that is smothered in brandy and set alight to be served sprinkled with caster sugar, pouring cream and custard and her homemade fruit mince pies.
R's mums Christmas pudding alight with flaming brandy

 In the evening friends come around to sit on the balcony, drink vats of wine and nibble on cheese platters.
On the balcony at R's parents house on Christmas day evening
 Living in Australia it’s often hot at Christmas time and it is quite traditional here to have a seafood barbeque for the Christmas day lunch and then to head on down for a Boxing day (26th) morning swim and ‘sink a few tinnies at the beach’ (indulge in a few cans of beer from the esky). By the time it gets to New Year’s Eve we are ready for that other great European tradition of watching the hilarious skit ‘Dinner for One’ and seeing the New Year in with champagne, silly hats and whistles. Because it’s the hot dry season fireworks have long been banned here much to the annoyance of R who can be a bit of a pyrotechnic freak when it comes to fireworks. At the end of 2013 I am turning 50 and we are hoping to  celebrate my birthday in Copenhagen (where pre-Christmas klejner and real Danish pastries for breakfast bought fresh from the baker found on every street corner will be available and the streets will be decorated in those quintessentially Danish red and white love hearts and little Danish flags) before moving on to horse-drawn sleigh rides thru the snow for Christmas in Salzburg where a little birdy tells me the famous Hotel Sacher (of Sacher Torte fame) puts on a ‘Dinner or One’ play with dinner.
Well this is the last post for 2012 and for my first post of 2013 I will be announcing a name change that will seem somewhat more complicated and yet strangely will not be – all will be revealed next week my little cherubs! In the meantime I hope you all had a lovely Christmas time even if you don’t celebrate Christmas and that you have a very happy New Years. May 2013 be strangely bizarre and as first daughter advocates from Alice in Wonderland - do try to think of at least six impossible things before breakfast every morning.

Lots of love Princess Snapperhead xxx

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