Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tidings of comfort and joy

If you celebrate Christmas, there is always a moment when the season grabs your heart, when you float without resistance into the glow of goodwill and festivity.

One day, we might have a grandchild!
For me, the moment came when I saw a little wooden tree made entirely of two-inch drawers, each drawer numbered, in a shop window. This was a perpetual advent calendar. You slip a chocolate or candy into each drawer, and a child learns how to count down to The Day.

The item reminded me of the many glittery advent calendars I bought for my sons, and how excited they'd be (little eager fingers!) when the windows grew larger as Christmas Eve approached.

I wanted that wooden calendar, even though my sons are too old, and I have no grandchildren.

My friend Susan came for a three-day visit and said that for her, the moment came when she heard "Baby, It's Cold Outside" for the first time in December. (She likes the Dianne Reeves/Lou Rawls version.)

Another friend waits till this week and watches "Love Actually" while drinking hot cider.

Other harbingers include lots stacked with trees; their fresh-cut piney smell is Eau de Holiday. 

Torchlight parade on Mt.-Royal
And pannetone (ours studded with marron glacé); the donations my friends and I make in lieu of gifts, each choosing her cause; the arrival of the first (but dwindling) card in the post.

In my new city: torchlit parades, a flurry of funky craft shows; concerts like Rufus and Martha Wainwright and family's "A Not So Silent Night", which we saw on Sunday, the array of Bûche de Noël on tempting display in the bakeries.

Bûche
Let it snow!
And snow! I took this photo a few minutes ago on our balcony; can you see the flakes on my sweater? The Christmases of my childhood were white, and I love them still. 

This is the first year that the family will be separated on Christmas. Jules, who is managing his heart condition ably, has a new job and a new future, at a recently-opened butcher shop whose mission is the promotion of local food. He's learning the trade and enjoying both the work and the staff's camaraderie. We'll see him in January, after the rush is over. 

Because of his absence, I'd thought I might just slip past the holiday cheer, but no: I'm into it.

What puts you in the spirit? I would love to know and your spirit will add to mine!

42 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think I'm starting to get the spirit after reading this post Duchesse. Your words and the pictures of Montreal, where I lived for ten years and where I got married...it brings it all back.

Thank you.

Bourbon&Pearls said...

So far, nothing, I'm the Grinch this year.

see you there! said...

When all the packages and cards are mailed and I can sit back and enjoy. The spirit kicks in at that point.

Darla

Chicatanyage said...

Listening to carols sung by the choir of Kings College Cambridge on Christmas eve whilst stuffing the turkey.

lagatta à montréal said...

No, I am not a fan of Christmas and don't really celebrate it. Not being grinchy; I'll take advantage of people's year's-end leaves to invite some friends over for good (but not particularly Christmasy) suppers, perhaps see a few films, catch up on home office filing and of course on reading! Other than filing, all things I enjoy. I'm looking forward to seeing some friends who are extremely busy most of the time.

Now the friends expect a paella - I love that but it is time-intensive and does involve buying seafood. Still, it is appreciated.

That wooden Advent calendar is very pretty. If only everything this time of year were in such good taste! Chic, that would certainly include the King's Colleg Cambridge. Although I'm not remotely religious, I enjoy the religious hymns in such settings - I have a strong aversion to the holly, jolly stuff.

I dislike winter and snow, but if I lived elsewhere there would be drawbacks there too. Fortunately, living a short walk from more than one métro stop, the worst rigours of winter are easily avoided.

Today it is very mild but raining hard; at least there is no need to shovel rain!

I prefer to think of New Year's - until recently by far the more important holiday in Québec - will make a tourtière, or if I'm lazy pick up a game meat tourtière at the Jean-Talon market. And chat with long-distance sweetie.

déjà pseu said...

I'm getting there. My replacement vehicle has XM Satellite radio, and they have an entire channel devoted to (often cheesy) older Christmas music. Hearing Mel Torme sing "Christmas Song" or Dean Martin sing "Baby It's Cold Outside" turns over my holiday ignition.

Pam @ over50feeling40 said...

My family knows that I am a Christmas nut...I love everything about it from sappy movies to Advent calendars...all of it. I am not allowing my husbands unemployment and our lack of funds or our lack of snow to rob me of the joy!! You look so joyful in your picture!!

Gretchen said...

Once the greenery is hanging on the lampposts with sparkly lights on houses, I start to get in the mood...but it takes awhile. I have to say, Duchesse, that your scarf is truley lovely. The colors are so flattering to your face, you should really wear it as often as possible!

LPC said...

I got nothing. But I'm so glad to hear your son is doing well.

Blue Jeans Girl said...

For me it's the tree. It makes the house so festive. Even though I had other holiday decorations up, it wasn't until we put up the tree that it really felt like Christmas. The snow yesterday also helped.

materfamilias said...

I'm finding it so tough to get there while still in the throes of marking and with several academic deadlines between me and the holidays. But I've bought a few new Christmas CDs and will put them on this morning while I grade exams. And I came home from work yesterday to find that Paul had put the tree up and strung the lights and the most basic decorations, leaving the final touches for me -- he's usually quite content to wait until the 20th to put it up, so I really appreciated the gesture and I could feel my heart burst one of the smaller Grinch-bands . . .

kathy peck said...

Nothing here as well, but very glad your son is doing well and has a new career going.

Frugal Scholar said...

nice scarf

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

A bit off topic...I like that picture of you and your scarf looks fabulous!

Jane W. said...

Snow! Unfortunately we don't have any here.

materfamilias said...

oh, how could I have forgotten to comment on Jules' new career path. Megan dabbled in butchery for a while with someone doing a Whole Beast, local, organic restaurant, and so I have a sense of how very rewarding this can be, especially for someone as steeped in food culture as your son. And I've just been reading Adam Gopnik on Fergus Henderson et al. Great stuff!

coffeeaddict said...

The cookie baking usually does the trick complete with homemade mulled wine and Frankie singing Christmas tunes.
Love Actually is a yearly feature too.

SewingLibrarian said...

I do miss the cold and snow, having grown up in Illinois. And I also miss the late, great, Marshall Fields, a store which exuded Christmas Cheer for Chicagoans for many, many years. But now, for me, the music first of all - especially Handel's Messiah. Baking fruitcakes, putting up the tree. Like Chicatanyage, listening to the Nine Lessons and Carols (it's on very early on Christmas Eve here in California). But most of all, attending Christmas Eve service and singing Silent Night outside the church with candles.
I'm happy Jules has found a new profession and wish him bonne chance with it!
Are you wearing Neige d'Antan? I love that design and hope to own one some day. Beautiful picture of you. Montreal has been good for you, I think.

HB said...

Lovely photo! And very good news about your son. Here there are a lot of neighborhood associations that put up lights in the street trees. I just love that - it makes the whole city seem like it's celebrating and the light in the midst of the very dark winter just warms my heart and makes me all Christmas cheery. Now I want to make some spiced cider...

Carol said...

I'm so glad to see from the various comments that I'm not the only one who's not feeling it. Yet? My family is on the opposite coast, and we've agreed that "presents" should be charitable donations. Decorating is not happening, as I'll be doing a major kitchen remodel in January and don't want anything else to have to pack up. Maybe I'll feel Christmas-y when the remodel is all over in early March?

Duchesse said...

Anonymous: Montreal really *does* Christmas. I red recently that space given to food writing (all year) is twice that of other Canadian papers.

Bourbon: Have had years like that!

Darla: This is the first year I've sent a Christmas package- to the son who is not here. He let it slip that he'd opened it... but not all the gifts.

Chicatanyage: Choral music always moves me, too!

Pseu: Despite my comment above I also love jazz Xmas standards- really most music except cheesy novelities.

Pam: Good for you b/c it's not about the money. And I do hope 2012 brings some good news.

Gretchen, frugalscholar, hostess, SewingLibrarian: Thanks, this is Neige d'Antan, at least a dozen years old; now is time to wear it.

Sewing, Marshall Field's Frango Mints are an indelible memory; they were a Christmas treat growing up. (My parents and their families were from Chicago.)

materfamilias: When a tree pops up in front of you, that's a sign. So great to have that hand. Jules' store is not *the place* where M. had her encounter. Last night when I called J. he was still @ work, and boss got on the phone to say he could not have gotten along without him, how fast he was learning etc. A precious gift for us!

HB: I feel the same way too, the boulevards lit by fairy lights are enchanting to me, even if the neighbourhood is humble, there's a lively, festive air.

Carol: Spirit ebbs and flows, and why force it if you don't feel it? Remodeling pushes everything else aside, in my experience. Good luck with the project and maybe you will get into St. Patrick's Day.

SewingLibrarian said...

Ah, Frango Mints!! My parents used to haul a box out here to California every time they came. Of course, I loved Fannie Mae, too. ;)
(My word verification is tante. Appropriate for a message going to Montreal, non?)

Duchesse said...

Sewing: I can see the Field's dining room, where we'd go for lunch (turbot)... and the floors glittering with clothes. My mother actually took diet pills so she could shop all day then go to dinner at 9 pm with my Dad- Luchow's. (That was pretty much before the jury was in on diet pills, she thought they were miraculous.) Thanks for bringing back the memories.

Duchesse said...

SewingLibrarian: Wrong restaurant, wrong city- it was Berghoff's. (They also lived in NYC for a short time.)

lagatta à montréal said...

Two interesting stats on Christmas spending in Québec - we spend a LOT less on Christmas/Holiday presents than any other Canadian province and pretty much everywhere in North America (there may be some exceptions to that, the article was vague on US states). I doubt very much that means we spend less on "Les Fêtes" (the year's end holidays - Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's, and all the way to Epiphany, with La Galette des Rois and another excuse for sparkling wine) as there is some pretty fancy cookery and imbibing going on.

This week, I also read that we are also at the tail of online shopping (the survey matched educational and income levels). The survey company doesn't think it is a matter of most of the online shopping companies being in the US and not having catalogues in French - and actually LLBean, in nearby Maine, offers live and online help in French - but shopping patterns, including English speakers - and especially in clothing and travel. It is true that relatively few of my friends shop online (with the exception of some computer and electronic goods), and most have a bachelor's degree at least. I'm surprised they are so typical that way and that this applies also to more "suburban" and "regional centre" shoppers here.

You could do worse than wandering around Jean-Talon Market these days - not just panettoni and bûches but also a lot of deals on seafood and of course all manner of tourtières.

Duchesse, I guess I should find a tourtière recipe or two!

From game meats through a combination of pork/beef/veal, through lamb (also for non-pork eaters such as Jews and Muslims who get into the spirit of the season - Montréal has very significant Jewish and Arab communities) - to some surprisingly good vegetarian tourtières. A great idea if you are vegetarian or hosting vegetarian guests.

Susan said...

I think my first real recognition of the season will come when we pick up our younger son and his girlfriend (whom we have never met) at the airport on the evening of the 23rd. Until then, I'm listening to Christmas music, wrapping gifts, planning menus and grocery shopping excursions, etc.

Sometimes Christmas is very difficult for many people. I always think of that. We've had our share of true adversity this year, and the end of the year has a tendency to bring that into focus. I'm looking ahead to 2012! Bring on the New Year!

Happy news about your son. I know you will miss him this Christmas.

Duchesse said...

lagatta: Land's End provide service in French, too.

But a person can wrap vegetables in pastry till the carrots come home. This will *not* be tourtière, any more than you can smoke a potato, and call it bar-be-que. (Our family that includes Texans and Quebeckers, what can I say?)

Susan: Children returning to the nest, how could that not lift the heart? We are happy that our 'missing' son will be with close family friends in Toronto.

lagatta à montréal said...

Duchesse, vegetarian tourtières aren't veg wrapped in pastry - they are based on vegetable proteins such as seitan (or the packaged "Yves" vegetarian "meats" or millet. Obviously not my preference but not nearly as bad as one might suspect and good ones are much better than insipid meat tourtières. (I add a lot of mushrooms, and obviously, onions). They please vegetarian friends this time of year.

I've never had Texas or Southeastern US bbq. Here bbq means grilling, but their version seems almost closer to a braise. Argentines also grill, and eat about as much beef as Texans.

Duchesse said...

lagsatta: Assuming the vegetable proteins are presented in a two-crust pie form, like classic tourtières. At least there is pastry. I've eaten seitan.

Southern US BBQ is pit-smoked meat, more southeastern than southwestern though BBQ has been sadly misrepresented in many regions. (If you do not see and smell a smoker, run.) Pork is more widely used than beef in my artery-clogging experience and some folks will accept chicken, but the real thing is pork or beef. Pretty much my favourite carnivore experience.

Duchesse said...

lagatta: Sorry for typo on your name.

SewingLibrarian said...

Duchesse, I loved Berghoff's!! We could sit and reminisce about bygone Chicago landmarks some time. When the American Library Association used to always hold its midwinter meeting in Chicago, people said the three reasons to go were Fields, the Art Institute, and to hear a performance by the CSO.

Anonymous said...

Being a bit more prepared, I'm now able to relax and enjoy. Most of the presents are bought, just some baking and few difficult men to deal with. I'll pop down to the shops at lunchtime next week and see what strikes the eye for them.

Cheers,
Eleanorjane

Duchesse said...

SewingLibrarian: You could say Chicago is our kinda town!

eleanorjane: I bug a difficult man to give me hints- for himself or a charity that he supports. Some persons would like that far better, which is fine with me!

Jill Ann said...

Duchesse & Sewing, I can relate to your nostalgia for Marshall Field's....I'm from Detroit, not Chicago, and we had J.L. Hudson's as our fabulous, home-grown department store. When I was very small we went downtown to see Santa at Hudson's. They also put on a huge Thanksgiving Day parade. Later on we had more suburban stores, but it was still the go-to place to do your Christmas shopping, and have a bite to eat in the lunchroom. Ironically, Hudson's was bought out by Marshall Field's, which was one thing, but then the whole lot was bought by Macy's, which ruined them. NOT a Macy's fan, except for the one on 34th street!

Jill Ann said...

Oh, regarding my Christmas spirit this year: my suburban Houston neighborhood is famed for its Christmas lighting. On weekends in December, the local high schools put on hayrides to tour the lighting displays. Last night, my elderly aunt & uncles, plus my cousin and her kids & grandkids came over for a hayride. Big fun (17 guests) and very Christmassy! We then came back to the house & had wine and desserts and I had the iPod on the Christmas playlist (which must be hundreds of songs, because I LOVE Christmas music!)

Susan Tiner said...

Singing! We are gearing up for singing at the Christmas eve service, then hanging out with my kids Christmas Day.

I'm so glad to hear your son has a new direction, he sounds like a real stand up guy.

Merry Christmas Duchesse!

MJ said...

My Christmas spirit started with seeing the lights along Park Ave. in NYC and the masses of trees in front of the Seagram's Building. But Christmas caroling to elderly members of our church congregation a week ago Sunday really got me in the holiday mood - what more can you ask than to sing wonderful music to a genuinely appreciative audience?

Duchesse said...

Jill Ann: Hudson's holds great memories too(I grew up in northern Mich.) There is just something about a grand department store. And I've even spent a Christmas in Houston!

Susan Tiner: Congregations seem to put something extra into singing for Christmas, it always sounds strong and joyful. Jules' Christmas gifts to his friends and brother: special salamis, boar roast, double-smoked bacon.

Duchesse said...

MJ: I loved seeing the skaters at Rockefeller Center, too. Caroling, especially for those who may not have family members close by, is a wonderful gift.

Tash said...

Oooh, K, your sons will never be too old for a chocolate calendar :)

Rubiatonta said...

This year, it was buying a ticket for the annual Christmas lottery, El Gordo, which I haven't done in years.

But other than that, I'm not really feeling it. And I've decided that it's OK to not really feel it, since I find Christmas overwhelming in many ways. It's a little odd, but not bad.

SewingLibrarian said...

JillAnn, I totally agree about Macy's! Haven't bought anything from them since they took over Fields (and Hudsons and Daytons, etc) and ruined them all.