Sunday, 15 December 2013

Christmas Culture

So an old school friend of mine on facebook recently posted "Culture is really something yuh know. Who remembers seeing their neighbour still painting their front wall at 4.30 Christmas morning with a torch light for illumination?" And it started me thinking of the Christmas cultural differences between Finland and Trinidad.

I so do not miss Trinidad in that respect. When I look at my Finnish mother-in-law slaving away in the kitchen for two weeks before Christmas preparing ginger bread cookies, plum pastries, Christmas casseroles and all those goodies it makes me tired. I could not imagine how it would be if she also had to clean the whole house top to bottom, mop floors, polish them, clean windows and shine them, change and wash all the curtains, dust everywhere including under the bed, and paint the whole house inside and out like we did in Trinidad?

Wherever did this tradition come from in the first place? This is just another tradition created to kill wives and mothers and harass little children. Because in the old days maybe the husband would paint but you think he would do any of the household cleaning? No! Not men's work. So it was the women who did all the cleaning and roped the children into helping. So our Christmas holidays away from school consisted of helping mommy mop, dust, polish, scrub and paint. As I am writing this I am having flash backs, like the remnants of a bad trip, of Christmases past when I sat outside in the hot sun on a stool painting the front gate. I ponder the uselessness of it all when children should be outside learning through play (I love that Finnish concept). Instead we re-paint the entire house even if we have to beg borrow or steal to afford it, just to keep up with every one else in the neighborhood.

Needless to say I am not doing that. And I especially love the fact that nobody here is expecting me to do that. I enjoy my freedom to just worry about the usual cleaning and the making of the Christmas foods which in and of itself is more than enough trouble in my mind. Especially when you have little children. I think it is more important to spend time with my child than worry about having a spick and span house for Christmas guests.  The only thing that I may be made to feel guilty about is not making all the Finnish casseroles and ginger bread cookies and plum pastries by hand. But I long ago stopped feeling guilty about that. I was recently told by an older work colleague that "You can't buy the Christmas casseroles, you have to make them yourself, it's just not as good". First of all, as an immigrant I have a built in excuse. I am not expected to know how to make Finnish Christmas food. But as I said earlier, it is more important to be rested and happy so that I can spend quality time with my family, rather than being a tired and cranky mess. I learned from my mother-in-law, who is quite the homemaker and enjoys it, not to do the same. As she is always tired and complaining of an aching back after Christmas and spends most of her time in the kitchen instead of with the children who fly across the globe to spend Christmas with her. To her it makes sense, but to me it doesn't. And I have noticed that nowadays a lot of younger Finns feel the same as I do. So I am not alone in my freakish foreign ideas. 

But the Trini habit of totally redoing your home and making all the Christmas foods, foods too many to count, is just too much. What with all the black fruit cake which must be prepared in advance as the prunes have to be pitted and soaked in liqueur with raisins, currants and cherries weeks before the actual baking of the cake. Then there is pastels where the meat filling has to be cooked, then corn meal based dough has to be made, separated into balls, rolled out and the filling added. Then each is folded individually and wrapped in a banana leaf, and foil and steamed. This process takes all day! There is also the sorrel making, which requires pitting those horribly prickly seeds from the sorrel flower (I shudder at the memory of having my little hands pricked) and boiled with spices then strained, cooled and sweetened. The pigeon peas stew which needs to be shelled first before it can be cooked. Another labour intensive en-devour. Not to mention the macaroni pie, ham, bread, turkey, calalloo, rice and salads that have to made all to be inhaled in under an hour at the Christmas table. The preparation of this feast usually began weeks in advance and culminated after midnight on Christmas eve. How did our parents ever have the energy to deal with us children on Christmas day I don't know. We Trinis take this Christmas preparation thing to an extreme. An extreme I gladly enjoyed as a recipient when I was growing up but refuse to bother with as an adult on the other side of the fence.

Here once again I have a wonderful built in excuse. I live abroad so I can't get calalloo, pigeon peas or sorrel. No one here knows about pastels and black cake so no one is the wiser that I have not bothered to make them. When I remember how my parents used to criticise the neighbour's "blender" calalloo (as opposed to using a swizzle stick, Google swizzle stick if you are not a Trini) and pastels with a press (as opposed to using a rolling pin and folding), implying that their cooking was inferior. I laugh at the stupidity. As we grow older we realize the adults are not as clever as we thought. I think this whole Christmas mania that adults put themselves through for Christmas around the world is silly and the Trini Christmas mania is the silliest of all. I can say this because I am a Trini!

P.S. I made fish sticks for lunch today on a Sunday not the whole "Sunday lunch" (macaroni pie, peas, rice, salad, meat roast or stew for those of you who don't know). In fact I rarely do except for on the occasional nostalgic Sunday. Another Trini slave-driver tradition that no one here cares about and won't judge me for. Ha!

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