Christmas is a bit of a pastiche at our house. Mostly because I don’t have any family traditions to import from when I was growing up. My father is Muslim and my mother is Christian. They didn’t really have a holiday strategy – you know the way Debbie & Danny made a dinner strategy in “About Last Night”:
“Two nights a week I cook. Two nights a week he cooks. Two nights we go out. And then there’s sandwich night.” (Totally unrelated but in reply to that, Debbie’s acerbic friend Joan quips “I bet your sex life is a real thrill. Two nights a week you’re on top, two nights a week he’s on top. So what is it you do on sandwich night?”)
There was no plan. Christmas trees would invariably go up but it was furtive and short-lived, certainly not fun. My father, who gives the best gifts in our family, would forgo taking part in the restrained festivities. Mostly, my sister and I received sweaters – itchy ones.
Sometimes we celebrated with my Romanian grandmother, she is a talented cook and gifted hostess but her traditional Christmas dish is ‘Piftie‘, a medieval style dish of smoked pork leg in aspic (served cold). Not exactly the roast-turkey-with-cranberry-sauce-bread-sauce-gravy-stuffing-sprouts-sausages-spuds-bacon-wrapped-prunes-with-plenty-of-leftovers-for-sandwiches Christmas spread that I make every year.
It was slim pickings at our house. I would look enviously at what my American friends were getting, eating and doing for Christmas. Or my Jewish friends “How come Angie Schwarz get’s presents 7 days in a row?!” I would complain to my parents?!
Since I moved out of my parents home, I have celebrated Christmas in a big way. Not for any religious reasons but because it’s excess at it’s best: so you put felt reindeer horns on the dog and roll your eyes good-naturedly at the lame joke in the cracker. You eat too much and rent 10 DVD’s, you make a pillow tower to support your neck so that you can continue to eat christmas cookies while maintaining a reclined position. After 15 minutes, you stop the movie and get up to make Christmas sandwiches.
I don’t stray from the main spread, the roast-turkey-with-cranberry-sauce-bread-sauce-gravy-stuffing-sprouts-sausages-spuds-bacon-wrapped-prunes-with-plenty-of-leftovers-for-sandwiches Christmas spread. But dessert, cookies, everything else changes.I borrow from a different culture every year. Last year I made Christmas cookies that I boxed up and gave to our friends. This year, I invited my friend Celine over with her two young boys and we sat down for a couple of hours of intense gingerbread house design. The children gorged themselves on gummy bears and smarties and despite practically humming from the sugar, were exceedingly good at adhering to the gingerbread house design brief.
It was surprisingly easy to make and enough fun that I might do it again next year. Next year I will probably cut out windows and a door so that I can put a tea light inside. This is a BBC Good Food recipe and I will direct you straight there so that you can also download the stencils. Alternatively, you could always buy the flat packed gingerbread house from Ikea for about €2. It’s not like you are going to eat the house (although I did make plenty of cookies from the excess dough and we munched on those as we built the house) – the real fun is in the decorating.