Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Is About the Turnips

On Christmas Eve I found myself in the kitchen, looking out on the shadows in the garden in the Christmas darkness, listening to a radio documentary about church bells. My husband was chasing the baby - well, he's not a baby any more, a toddler, really - in an elaborate game that involved, amid much shrieking and Daddy Bear growls, a dash around the dining room table and a brief dart into the kitchen to circle my knees.
"Goodness me," I thought, turning the radio up so I could hear when the bells of Cologne cathedral were cast, "I'm listening to a programme about bells! I'm really getting old!"

I looked down at my hands, peeling the turnips, amidst the potato peelings and the discarded leaves of the Brussels sprouts and I suddenly saw my mother's hands. I realised that I was doing what I'd seen her do on Christmas Eve for nearly forty years, and my husband, pottering around the kitchen, not finding kitchenware that has been in the same cupboard it's always been, was just what my father always did - albeit, my father was usually attempting his one and only culinary foray of the year, his perfectly engineered sherry trifle, whereas my husband was just trying to find the teapot. Oh, and with a noisy child clambering between us.

And I started to cry, which is not a good idea with a sharp knife in your hand.
"Are you okay?" my husband, said startled. "What happened?"
"Nothing happened," I said.
"Are you sad?"
Incredulous: "Are you crying because you're happy?"
How do I explain it?
"I'm crying because we're all safe and well and content and at home. And I'm crying because I'm doing the same thing my mother did on Christmas Eve, peeling the turnips."
I blew my nose into a wad of kitchen roll and he patted me sympathetically. More like a you're-a-weirdo-but-I-love-you-anyway kind of pat.
"I'm really sorry," he said, "but I can't get emotional about vegetables."

See, Christmas isn't really about the toys and the glitz and the food and the Important Traditions we think we have to uphold, like family photos and turkey dinners and filled stockings on the mantelpiece. Christmas is about the turnips. Christmas is about finding yourself unthinkingly doing the thousand tiny things your mother did and your father did: leading a one-year-old to a little pile of toys and saying "Look what Santa brought you!", even though you know that child has no clue who Santa is. It's about wiping down sinks and countertops to wake up to a kitchen that will be clean for about ten minutes on Christmas Day. It's about lighting a candle in your window on Christmas Eve or lining up the Christmas cards just so. It's about being part of a bigger cycle, a small cog in a clockwork of Christmasses that stretch over decades. It's about the turnips.


And in that sense, I hope you and yours spent a peaceful day today, doing whatever it is that you always do to keep you safe and well, and make you content.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
P.S.: This morning I opened my Christmas present from my husband, a pretty silver ring with little diamonds. I spontaneously clapped my hand to my chest and drew an intake of breath.
"Oh God," he said, alarmed, "We're not going to have a repeat of The Turnip Incident, are we?"
Dear me. I have a feeling it has already become part of family legend.


The Foggy Knitter said...

That's a beautiful Christmas piece, you've expressed something I've been feeling too. Also if you want to cry about turnips go for it.

Did your little one enjoy Christmas? Any exciting toys?

Katie K said...

Personally, I think that "look what Santa brought you " business is a slippery slope. And really, I don't know why people tell children things like that.

The Gingerbread Lady said...

@ The Foggy Knitter: we tend to believe that less is more, so he got enough to make him more than happy, but all he really wants is for us to play with him, which we can do and do gladly :-)

@ Katie K - each to her own. Why people do it (or not) is different and if they feel it's the right thing for their family, then so be it.

linda said...

Such a lovely post, I empathise completely, and I think it's lovely for kids to believe in Santa, it's all part of the magic of Christmas:)

Rachel said...

It's chestnut stuffing and Christmas sweets for me. My husband spends the weeks before Christmas being grumpy and threatening to boycott the whole thing, just like my Dad did throughout my teens...

As for Santa, here's a neuroscientist trying to justify the myth.

Unknown said...

absolutely charming and so apt. It's true. Christmas for me is just like that; my mother has been dead for 20 years, and I always sniffle over the fruitcake that is always a little too dry--just the way she made it!

Unknown said...

Yes, it's like that here too. Poignant moments, pregnant or not, but Christmas is about the too dry fruitcake, just like my mother made it. And it makes me cry, every year. For the past 20 years since she's been gone.

Unknown said...

I love that you cry over the turnips!
The wonderfull thing about christmas in our little family, is how our two families have come together and mixed our traditions. Without any incidents or tears, we have somehow managed to incorporate the two families into one.
I make the sauce my mother used to, she makes the cookies from my grandmothers cookbook, but we make the turkey and serve the dessert as my inlaws do it.
Traditions are important! But not worth fighting over.

Anonymous said...

For auld lang syne...

Those who taught me the traditions of the family are now gone. I place the Christmas cards just so...

I'm glad that you had a nice holiday with your family. :)

Amjaylou said...

Such a great post. You're not alone in shedding a few tears when you least expect it! Hope you had a good one. Wishing you and your family the very best for the New Year

Katie K said...

Of course everyone has their own traditions. That doesn't mean they shouldn't be examined.

patrysia said...

Lovely, just lovely.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written and fits the Christmas we just had perfectly. Those little moments of explosive comprehension are the stuff that understanding is made of. I love that I found this blog :)