We still hang out the quilted stockings my mother made when she could remember all our names but now we draw names for three relatives and limit the stocking stuffers to $10 each.
Christmas Eve starts early in the afternoon with the gathering of the cooks at my sister's house, the participating chefs are assigned tasks. Those that can't cook, and they know who they are, are assigned parts of the meal that they can purchase rather than make. My middle sister's assignment always has something to do with dinner rolls, the pre-baked ones you can purchase in the grocery and heat up in the oven just before dinner. The rest of us take on more ambitious tasks, although last year's Potatoes Anna ended up starting an oven fire before they got baked all the way through. The goal is to have the meal ready by six.
When the kids were really young they were allowed to open their gifts before the meal was served. There's no point in torturing the young. Now since the girls are all teens and tweens we're hoping they've learned the attribute of patience and if not cousin Maggie will set them straight.
Our Christmas Eve meal is typical Midwest German, only foods that are either brown or off-white are allowed. We've tried to introduce some verdant greens, a touch of hot red but the best we can do is a bit of yellow and then only in the form of some Wisconsin cheese.
After the meal is cleared and before dessert, it's stocking time. The stockings my mother made all had embroidered names on them but as the family grew and changed and my mother's memory began to fail we've resorted to pining post-its of new members over the names of those no longer with us.
We've decided on a Survivoresque method of prize distribution. Each member will be allowed to cast one vote for the person they believe created the best of the ugliest. Just like on the Survivor finale it's the one with the most votes that will win the million dollars or our equivalent of a million dollars. We'll probably break for dessert after the sweater competition. I know Maggie will require a line item mention of this, so here it is.
We've made the price of entry into our recession conscious Christmas pretty low on the financial scale, but the humor and joy of the evening can't be matched. When tears are running down your face because you're laughing so hard at two people fighting over a pair of size fifty-four triple EEE brassieres and granny panties you know you've had a priceless Christmas.
THE CURB ARTICLE
Brian Ulrich, photographer
Represented by Julie Saul Gallery, New York