food

Christmas Memories

Now that yet another Christmas celebration has come and gone, which Christmas memory is your favorite? From all of them, is it a childhood memory or one more recent?

These questions got me thinking. Actually my memories have become a blur especially when remembering the ones when my kids were little. They seem to all blend together. Thank goodness for photographs which validate my memory of some of the events, such as the strolling minstrel – one year my one daughter receiving a guitar from Santa.xmas KC2

When I think of when I was growing up, I do remember Christmas Eve dinners, which is when my family celebrated Christmas. That dinner was steeped in Polish tradition. Christmas Eve is called Wigilia in Polish and my mother even helped us celebrate it when she was at the Lutheran Home in Arlington Heights. Her first year there was memorable when we brought her to the house for lunch and some pierogi, our little Wigilia. mama LHThe idea of having her with us for dinner in the evening was going to be too much for her and certainly for me, having to care for her. Therefore lunch was perfect. The first year was good and very celebratory; the second year was difficult. She was so weak and fragile, and the time at my house had to be a burden on her. She really did not know where she was.

I remember some of the Christmases growing up, when my brother and I were very small. We always wrote our letter for personal wants, to the Christmas Angel, not to Santa. The Christmas Angel would come via the window which my parents would crack open in the living room. During the evening before our dinner began, we would go for a drive around town to see all the Christmas lights. Before we all got on the road, my mom would excuse herself because she had to check to make sure she turned the oven off before leaving. This is when she would place the presents under the tree, as if the angel stopped by. She did confess to doing this many years later. Then of course my brother and I were absolutely wide-eyed with wonder when we got home to see all the presents under the tree.

xmas 1054

I don’t remember having a conflict with any other children about Santa versus the Angel. I guess it may have been that I just played along since I did not want to be different, but yet the Angel was what we believed in. We also did believe in Swienty Mikołaj, or Saint Nicholas, who some call Santa Claus, but he came on December 6th every year. If you leave your shoes out in front of your bed, Swienty Mikołaj would bring you a toy. It’s just that for us he did not come on Christmas Eve. It may seem that all these Polish traditions are rather confusing. You need to understand that the Polish traditions come from a strong Catholic belief system which is why things are done that way.

I do remember with my own kids trying to remember December 6, and falling very short of the mark some years. It’s because you need to remember on December 5th at bedtime to put the shoes out, and then remember to have candy canes or a toy handy to put in the shoes. Many years it was a struggle to keep that tradition alive. But I did keep the Polish Wigilia alive and we still do it today, even with my kid’s spouses participating. It’s all about the food. My one daughter and I go to the Polish grocer to get the fresh fish and marinated herring. My cousin from Poland sends me dried mushrooms for the barszcz, a beet soup. And it would not be Christmas Eve of we did not make pierogi from scratch.

I suppose my favorite Christmas is a compilation of all my Christmases as happy celebrations with family. These memories are a blend of one memory after another, no matter where we lived at the time or who else entered our life. This may be why they are all a blur, because every Christmas is about family and they are all celebrations.

The Clean Plate Club

Have you ever spoken the words “finish your dinner, or… else – some consequence directed at one of your kids or grand kids? Or do you remember hearing those words growing up?

There are many phrases about meal time struggles with parents and children each having an opinion about what foods the kids need to eat before having dessert or leaving the table. One favorite one comes to mind is “Eat those peas or beans – you can’t leave the table until you do.” To this day my husband won’t eat a pea or a bean. Power struggles between parents and children produce no winners but they do produce vivid memories.

I grew up with food being precious and the edict in my home was you have to eat everything on your plate. It was sacrilegious to waste food. I was raised to be in “the clean plate club”.

If you knew my parents you would understand why they felt this way. The mere fact that they had no money may be reason enough, but also knowing that they were starved during the early years of World War II, would be the better reason for their strong feelings on the subject.

I recently read this about the starved Polish population from Siberia during the war – “Once they were starved in Siberia by the Soviets, they were always obsessed with food.” My dad in particular showed his propensity for weight gain more than my mother. These are some before and after shots of him – the one of the left was after he was released from a Soviet prison and the one on the right was a couple of years later when he was in the Second Corps of the Polish Army, eating well and when not training or in battle, enjoying life.

before and after tatus (2)

My mom had an interesting relationship with food. As I mentioned there was no food waste in my house growing up. If it was on your plate you ate it. Later in life we would have these lively discussions when I visited Mom. We discussed the pros and cons of not eating when you were not hungry.

So here we had a woman, my mom, who was not only obsessed about having to eat everything on her plate but also obsessed with her weight. I think she realized that because she was no longer being starved, she had a tendency to gain weight when she ate too much or made bad choices. She then ate other “non-fattening” foods like popsicles that had 10 calories or the no fat whipped cream that comes in a container which helped to keep her weight down. She loved her sweets and enjoyed them because they had few calories. Even with this license to eat, she would pace herself and only eat the sweets for dessert or in the evening as a treat.

When the grand kids were at her house for a visit, Mom had many snacks in the house and they knew where to find them, like bread sticks, cookies, and all sorts of crackers. She was known for her popsicles because they were the brand that had a joke on every stick. She loved to tell those kidly knock – knock jokes; many of which she learned while eating the popsicles.  These are some of the memories my children have of their grandmother.Mama and kids

We all have an individual relationship with food, either as a panacea for an emotional or physical ill or as a bribery weapon against someone else. Eating your feelings is a good example of how some react as opposed to eating to live. Living to eat is more fun but then eventually life catches up with that choice.

Unknowingly this phrase “Clean Plate Club” actually had an origin. After the two major wars and the Great Depression, when food was scarce, our government instituted the club to help people realize that when they had food, not to waste it. The government drew on the public’s patriotism from during the wars and knew people wanted to help. The concept primarily focused on school children with a pledge that read, “At table I’ll not leave a scrap of food upon my plate. And I’ll not eat between meals, but for supper time I’ll wait.” This idea grew impractical over time as lifestyles changed and people became overweight, as our portion sizes grew.

As children my brother and I struggled with being overweight in a time when society did not have its current weight issues.Sunday at the creek

Most of my adult life, I have been obsessed with watching my weight just like my mother. So much for the “Clean Plate Club”, but in my house there is very little food waste. If you don’t cook as much food, you won’t have to eat it all, and if you don’t put as much food on your plate, you’ll have left overs.