A Christmas Eve to Remember
Many years ago, my mom decided Christmas had gotten TOO commercialized and TOO material-centric so she took it upon herself to reinvent Christmas for our family. Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or your giant plasma screen t.v.) you’ve probably noticed that simplifying and de-commercializing the holidays is a hot topic. (More on that over here.)
In fact, did you know that according to a national survey, more than 3 in 4 Americans wish holidays were less materialistic? (via The Center for the New American Dream)
After seeing how talked about this DEmaterialization of the holidays has become, I’ve realized that my mother is not as much of an oddball as I thought. In fact, I guess she could be considered more of a domestic pioneer with a “revolutionary” entertaining style. What does she do that’s so different, you ask?
Each year, to evoke high expectations for the holiday season, my mom extends family and friends an invitation to a themed Christmas Eve and “fête of fantasy”. (Her words, not mine. Come to think of it, don’t think I’d ever use “fête of fantasy” in a sentence.) Through creative decorating, simple decor, festive music and sumptuous fare, she transforms her house into another place and time. We have celebrated Christmas everywhere from around a roaring Gypsy campfire to the dining car of a luxury train traveling through the Orient.
Yes, I realize this isn’t normal, and most people would agree that Christmas already has a theme, but when my mom gets on a roll, you just have to stand back.
(By the way, I can’t even imagine what my hubs thinks of all these shenanigans since he was raised by a mom from a mid-Western dairy farming background and a Marine corps dad who had a much more practical outlook on life. In his house, putting food ON the table was of much more concern than the theme with which the food would be presented.)
Anticipation (and maybe a little eye rolling — eye rolling in a loving way, that is) begins when her unique invitation arrives after Thanksgiving. On Christmas Eve, guests dress for the occasion and can expect gifts pertaining to the night’s theme. Of course, her cocktails and dinner menu are also based on the whimsical theme.
I’m SO glad for the cocktails, by the way.
My mom gives just a few gifts which aren’t extravagant, but are, of course, on theme. She says she’s trying to avoid the commercialism of the holidays, but I know, deep down, she loves the process of the “production” — down to every last detail. Though the tradition may be a tad bit odd, I can’t say that we mind to much. As my husband says, “Christmas at Gigi’s is always memorable!”
You got that right.
Now, if you’re also a weirdo who is thinking of trying out a “new theme” for your holiday this year, here are few re-caps from the Christmas Eves of our past which might inspire you. Before we begin, let me apologize that I don’t have more photos. She started doing this before the digital age and photo happy world in which we live. I have some pics in a scrapbook, but they just don’t do the deal justice. I will try to capture better photos next time.
(By the way, these are HER titles for the themes, not mine. Just sayin’.)
An Evening of Splendor on the Orient Express
The invitation was a “Passport.” Mother served each course in a different “car of the train” in a different country through which the Orient Express travels. The front porch, decorated like a train platform (very Harry Potterish) greeted guests as they arrived. The house was decorated in Orient Express navy, ecru and gold and the table was set in formal OE style china with a true Orient Express lamp on the dessert buffet. Guests wore formal attire.
Vagabonds & Vardos: A Gypsy Christmas
The summer before Christmas Mother found an old gypsy cart that served as her inspiration that year. She painted the vardo bright colors with gold trim and decorated the yellow canvas with satin ribbons. A gypsy campfire was created in the back yard by using a firepit, copper pots and a clothesline strung between trees with bright East Indian wear and scarves hanging out to dry. Dinner was Hungarian goulash, as the main course, and other Hungarian, Czech and Polish dishes and beverages.
Christmas on Route 66
Christmas on the Mother Road – The was the year that my son was really into the movie “Cars” so my mom created a Christmas celebration on Route 66. Her driveway was lined with Burma Shave signs she painted and an original Route 66 highway sign was posted next to my step-dad’s red MG convertible. Drinks were served in the” Radiator Springs Lounge” and a cafe dinner dished up at “Mom’s Diner.” The photo above is a picture of my parents’ golden retriever getting into the act.
My favorite part of the Route 66 evening was when we all sat down to eat and she handed us menus then put on her best Flo imitation (a la Mel’s diner). The menu was quite extensive, and included the deliciousness you’d expect from a roadside diner. The only problem was, if you ordered anything other that what she had already prepared (meat loaf and mashed potatoes), she’d say, “Oh, sorry sugar, 86 that. We’re all out.”
Other Christmas Eves that I remember are… La Noche Buena: A Night in Old Havana; A Primordial Night: Two Million Years B.C. (Before Christmas) and Yuletide in Montana.
The La Noche Buena theme is one, in particular, that stands out in my mind. (Though, I’ve tried to oppress the memory, believe me.) We were instructed to call my folks when we were 5 minutes away from their house. We made the call. For a looooong 5 minutes, we nervously laughed as we meandered over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house.
Once we finally arrived to “Little Havana” — (in Wimberley, Texas. In December. When it was about 29 degrees out.) — we were greeted by my mom in a brightly colored oil cloth apron, standing in the front yard next to a ’57 Chevy and my step-dad, who was wearing a white undershirt and gold chains with a cross.
Can anyone say “Mi Madre es loco?”
It’s not just Christmas that prompts my mother’s somewhat bizarre creative stints. Almost every gathering she hosts has a hint of a theme. It is truly a compulsive disorder and she knows she needs therapy, but friends and family have come to expect the unusual when they come for dinner at my mother’s house.
So, I want to know — does anyone else out there have a mom like this? If so, please help me feel normal and share some of your family shenanigans in the comment section below.