The festive Yuletide table with flowers, bayberry candles, and crackers
It was Sister Dear who christened our house “Barky Manor,” because we nearly always had a dog or two running about. In the early 2000s my mother and I decided that she would do Thanksgiving and I would do Christmas: partly because two holiday feasts so close together were too much work for her, and partly because our family was bored with two turkey dinners a month apart.
Three-quarters of the family had dual citizenship, British and American, so roast beef and Yorkshire pudding seemed the logical choice. However, one year Darling Niece informed me that her little family of three were vegetarians. Oho, I thought, and began looking up vegetarian recipes. I found that a chef named Nora had come up with an entire vegetarian Christmas menu—roast beets with walnut sauce, butternut squash risotto, roasted onions with balsamic vinegar, and apple crumble.
That Christmas Day the family blew in, rosy-cheeked from the cold and smiling. Confronted by the sight and aroma of the roast beef and gravy, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, and English peas, the little family forgot they were vegetarians and began eating the traditional dishes with enthusiasm. The omnivores, meanwhile, enchanted by the butternut squash risotto, roasted onions, and roasted beets, also switched gears. Good thing, too, as otherwise we’d have wound up short.
However, the Christmas pudding, encircled by blue flames and borne into the darkened dining room, was a hit with both vegetarians and omnivores. Sadly, I couldn’t use the traditional pudding charms of a sixpence, a ring, and a thimble because one guest objected to them. She’d nearly broken a tooth at age seven when she bit into a serving of pudding and encountered a sixpence.
The first year that our daughter-in-law’s parents attended our Christmas dinner was a revelation to them. Being Jewish, they’d never been to a Yuletide dinner before—they’d always planned a nice vacation in a warm country for that time of year. However, they were so enraptured by the omnivores’ menu, the children and dogs running around, and the paper crowns, prizes, and idiotic jokes that popped out of the Christmas crackers, that thereafter they planned their winter vacation for early December.
One peculiar feature of our last few years at Barky Manor was that we invariably forgot to serve the yellow vegetable, a mixture of diced carrots, parsnips, and rutabaga, tossed with olive oil and baked. My husband and I were then faced with glumly eating it until New Year’s.
I miss the craziness of Christmas Day at Barky Manor. There was so much noise from the children, dogs, and grownups who’d imbibed rather too much wine that we sometimes mixed up the Christmas presents, with the result that grown-ups were surprised at receiving beanbags and children equally surprised at receiving presents intended for grownups.
Christmas isn’t nearly as much fun now, but at least we have the memories and the photographs of Christmases past.