Christmas season is definitely here. It even snowed the other night – granted, I just got a mere dusting that turned into rain and slush and is now nothing, but snow! At my house we are knee deep in presents to wrap, Christmas cookies to bake, and Christmas Eve menus to plan. And of course a toddler who keeps changing her mind about which princess dress Santa will bring her. (Currently, it’s Cinderella. Waiting until it’s a bit closer before placing our final order with the big guy, just so she is sure to get what she wants.)
This year, as it was eight years ago, the holidays feel a bit hollow and hard to manage at time. But with a toddler, I feel like it’s my job to generate all the Christmas magic I can. It’s my job. Christmastime is magical. I still remember the awe I used to feel as a kid and I want that for my kids. I want them to ask for ridiculous presents but also get excited about the perfect present for someone else. My daughter informed me she was going to get me a Belle dress and a Prince dress. (I hope the latter is purple.) We will decorate the house, go see Santa, maybe go see some lights, and prepare our tray of cookies for Santa. I will put out a bunch of presents the night of Christmas Eve and maybe set up a few big gifts for her. And I can not wait for Christmas morning. The joy of the three (and a half) of us sitting around the tree, opening presents, and enjoying each other is something I know will be wonderful.
But I’d be a liar if I said this was all easy. I mean, I know it’s never easy. It’s a stressful time of year. But this year, I find myself forcing myself to remember memories and conversations with my brother and with my mom. And remember various traditions that I can carry on with my family so that their presence is always there. And because I’m very much me, this places a ton of pressure on me. (I’m warning you, there will be a moment that I will lose it and cry for something seemingly so trivial but OH SO IMPORTANT AT THAT MOMENT.)
And this year, I’m focused on Christmas Eve. As a kid, this was our holiday. My family always hosted. The house smelled (or stunk, depending on your preference) of fish and fried Christmas zeppole. People popping in and out to send their holiday joy and a table that extended into the next room for a meal that would go on until late because once the main courses were done there was dessert. And somehow we’d stumble around at the end of the night and make our way to midnight mass.
The crowd got smaller over the years and visitors became more scattered as families grew and people pass. I remember everyone who used to be a part of this holiday and who is not here today. And yeah, it sucks. And this year, it sucks hard. But when my husband and I sat down to plan what we would serve for Christmas Eve, there was one voice in my head as we thought about the first course (yes, there are courses… so many courses). It was my brother. And it was the year my dad said he wouldn’t make lentil soup because no one really ate it and there was always so much left over. Both my brother and I said “HELLLL NO.” And as he so eloquently put it, “I’ve been eating lentil soup every year on Christmas Eve and life’s been pretty damn good.”
So, lentil soup is on the menu. Eat a bowl or have just a spoonful, but eat it you must.
The tradition: Eating lentil soup on Christmas Eve will bring good fortune in the coming year. There are variations of this tradition. I believe in my family, it was mostly a tradition from my mother. But I could be wrong because traditions do get fuzzy after all the years. But I do know there are versions of this tradition in the South involving black eye peas on New Year’s Eve. Some argue the lentil soup should be on New Year’s Day not Christmas Eve.
But the message of the soup is that if you eat it, it brings you fortune. I’ve taken to interpret fortune as not just money, but just a good life. Or luck.
And this year, while I impatiently wait for 2016 to end and look forward to a better 2017, I want that good fortune. And I am eagerly waiting for that soup. Now I just need to convince my dad to teach me how to make it.