Growing up in a small town in Southern New Jersey

Monday, November 5, 2007

Christmas Eve revisited

I have talked a little bit about our Christmas Eve -- Christmas Eve in Runnemede always included the midnight church service at the Lutheran Church. I was never allowed to stay up that late, so I didn't go, but dad did.

In 1955 we finally got a TV and then dad watched all the church services on TV -- which is about all that was on on Christmas Eve in the early days of TV. He was especially interested in the Vatican service. I always thought it was boring.

Anyway, we feasted, sort of, on Christmas Eve. I didn't realize until recently -- from watching the Food Network on TV -- that the meal mom served was an Italian tradition for Christmas Eve. Seven fishes? Well, we didn't have seven fish dishes, but we had several.

I think mom took some lessons from Grandmom Aspling (not my real grandmother, but a wonderful lady who I called Grandmom -- both my real grandmothers had gone to be with the Lord). Anyway Mrs. Aspling was Swedish, and they (the Swedes) are famous for smorgasbords, right? Well, mom prepared a meal in the Swedish tradition, only the food was definitely Italian, with a couple of German dishes (for my dad) thrown in.

I especially remember pickled herring, sausage, mashed potatoes, pickled beets, baked flounder, peas and onions in cream sauce, cole slaw, olives, Jewish pickles, sliced fresh Italian bread, real butter (I could pig out on bread and butter, if the butter was real and the bread fresh), and then a plethora of cookies, thanks to the good people of Mt. Calvary Union Church.

I don't think we children ever got a taste for the German dishes, at least I didn't. The feast began at 6 o'clock -- that was as long as my father was willing to wait to eat, I suppose. He liked his dinner at 6 o'clock on the dot, and that's when we always ate, including Christmas Eve.

The meal was served in the dining room -- we rarely ate (in my early years) in the dining room, but rather squeezed around the kitchen table for our meals. It wasn't until TV came into the house that we started to regularly eat at the dining room table, so dad could watch the news. And, I guess, because the children were getting bigger physically, and we really didn't fit around the kitchen table anymore.

Another Christmas Eve tradition we enjoyed was carolling. This was limited to our teenage years. And some years it was so wonderfully snowy, but we went carolling anyway. Mostly we walked around the town and visited the church people. We then retired to the church for cocoa and cookies.

Another tradition that my Uncle Joe started was to come visit us and take us into Haddonfield to view the various light displays -- the way houses were decorated. At that time Haddonfield was the place in NJ where rich people lived. Now I look at those beautiful homes, and they are still beautiful, but they really aren't that large, compared to what folks are building these days.
We didn't ride around looking at the lights on Christmas Eve, but on Christmas night, because most years Aunt Annie and Uncle Joe Egitto, and Uncle Joe Sbaraglia and their respective families would visit later on Christmas day.

I vividly remember one Christmas -- mom had made a turkey with all the trimmings. Aunt Anne and Uncle Joe has arrived, and we were sitting down to eat. Deb and I were given dolls -- NEW dolls, not rehabbed dolls from the Doll Hospital -- and I wouldn't put that doll down, not even to eat dinner. Aunt Anne commented on that fact. I must have worn that doll out, because I don't have it. I still have one Doll Hospital doll, and my daughter has what was my bride doll (mom made the gown out of satin and the veil out of lace).

I remember the excitement of Christmas morning and receiving the few gifts I did receive.

Silent night describes Christmas Eve in Runnemede -- all is calm, all is bright. The nativity scene -- which I never mentioned -- was set up at the Town Hall -- sharing space with Santa's house.

It just always seemed so quiet to me on Christmas Eve.

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