"A Christmas tradition is anything that happens every Christmastime, without fail." --Sandra BoyntonDo you know that the true function of a fruitcake is? (Hint: It's not for eating.) More on that in a bit.
In Chapter Four of Christmastime Boynton delves into a a few of the more widespread traditions of the season. In her mind the most universal of these traditions is, of course, the gathering of family to celebrate together. Christmastime certainly is a season that has sprung up and developed around being with loved ones. There are few other times every year when people across the globe reach out to those members of their family that they don't get to see regularly, often even making the trek to visit and celebrate together in person. Even in this day and age when travel has become such a huge pain in the rear (from expense to invasion of privacy to the risks involved just getting from point A to point B), this is still the time of year when most people are either going somewhere to see their family or entertaining visiting family in their own homes.
I will take a moment to point out that while I agree with Boynton wholeheartedly that Christmastime is a time for family, my husband and I actually aren't going anywhere this year for Christmas, nor are we entertaining any guests of our own. It is Baby Girl's second Christmas, but the first when she might actually grasp what is going on, so we are looking forward to spending a quiet day at home with her, relaxing and being lazy and watching (or helping) her play with her new toys. Also, new Doctor Who. But this is not the norm for us. We usually at the very least make a day trip into Mineral Wells to see the my husband's family, and sometimes we manage to work things out to visit my mom or dad. As much as I look forward to having Christmas morning with just our small family unit, I will be missing my larger family quite a bit, I promise you that. I am sure that in addition to all of that relaxing and playing, time will be made to call and chat with those we can't be with. We will be making a day trip into Mineral Wells, of course, just a few days late this year.
Boynton next takes a few pages to discuss Santa Claus. She gives a little of his back-story and describes the generally accepted version of the myth. She points out that Orwell has got nothing on the lyrics to "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," but yet somehow we all still view Saint Nick as a benevolent presence nonetheless. She also acknowledges that there are plenty of people out there who do not believe (nor do they indulge in the belief of others) in the story of Santa Claus. She further advises avoiding these people at all costs, because really, who wants that kind of unimaginative influence in their life? (It is slightly possible that I just might concur on this point.)
To keep candycanes from becoming stuck to easy-chair cushions or embedded in your carpeting, either:
1. DON'T BUY THEM or
2. DON'T UNWRAP THEM or
3. DON'T GIVE THEM TO CHILDREN
To enhance the beauty and extend the indoor life of your Christmas tree: ADD 1/4 CUP SUGAR TO THE WATER IN THE TREE STAND (Note: Do not add saccharin, as this will cause your tree to turn to plastic.)
Boynton also turns her attention to a few other common Christmas traditions, such as stockings, Christmas music, and nativity sets. She strikes a nice balance between the history behind the evolution of these traditions as well as their roles in modern Christmas celebrations. This chapter is wonderfully entertaining as well as being just a little bit informative. It reads a bit like a "history" lesson from your dad. You know what I'm talking about, right? You ask your dad why something is the way it is and he tells you what he knows (or thinks he knows) and then keeps on going until you stop him, just making it up off the top of his head. I mean this in the best possible way.
Then, finally, we get to the fruitcakes. Remember when I was introducing this series and I talked about my family's tradition of story time on Christmas Eve? I said that whenever it was my turn to choose a story, I would read my favorite excerpt from Christmastime. That excerpt comes from this chapter of the book, and is a brief little section titled "A Traditional Holiday Sport." That sport is a fun little game Boynton describes called "Pass the Fruitcake." In PtF, once a family has received a fruitcake, it is considered "in play," and the goal is to get rid of it as quickly as possible without eating it, throwing it away, or being discovered by the people who gave it to you in the first place. I don't think there's any way I could do this section justice with a description, and there are many reasons why I can't just post the whole entry here, but if you ever stumble across a copy of this book, do yourself a favor and pick it up and flip to this section at the very least. I dare you not to chuckle, or even laugh out loud.
I have to admit, I have never actually had fruitcake. We were never invited to play the game, I guess. But given the bad rap this treat gets in books and movies and on television, I kind of don't think I ever want to try it. But at the same time, I am morbidly curious. Is it something like green-bean casserole (which I love)? Does it get a bad rap because it looks funny and has things in it that a lot people are just naturally averse to, despite them being awesome? Is it something that is just really hard to make correctly, and thusly something that is really easy to make taste bad? I dunno. But every year I wonder, largely in part due to Sandra Boynton.
Tomorrow: Good Things to Eat