Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Merry Christmas from Cambridge! Err, or Happy Boxing Day!

Merry Christmas! Or, Merry Christmas yesterday, Hapy Boxing Day today! (We started to write this on Christmas night before we slipped into a food coma.) It was a quiet, rainy day here in Cambridge. JT and I opened presents in the morning morning (KT Tunstall tickets! New headphones! New socks! The new Springsteen album! A new Dustbuster! Malteasers!) and had a lovely 3-hour Christmas lunch at a local restaurant (Rack of lamb! Beef Wellington! An enormous cheese platter and mince pies!).

It was tough not to come home for the holidays but I think we've made the most of the time here. We learned about Christmas pudding and crackers and Boxing Day (more on those in a moment) and we still have a trip to Belgium before 2008 arrives. About the only sad thing was deciding to buy an artificial Christmas tree and then finding all the stores were sold out--hence the tiny Pier 1 bauble tree on the TV!

Around this time last year, we were in overdrive planning our move to Cambridge and soaking up every minute we could with our families and close friends. I simply ran out of time to send Christmas cards, then Christmas emails, then any sort of blast notification email whatsoever. Last month, I got back in touch with a friend I went to high school and college with, but haven't seen in quite some time. It's a little awkward to catch up on years' worth of goings-on, especially when you have to lead with, "um, well, I moved to England ... "

So, even though it's just the two of us this Christmas, we will be thinking of all of you. As we flip through our address book, look through pictures, and reminisce about Christmases past, you will all be with us. We love you all and miss you all very much, and we hope you all had a very merry Christmas. And we will eventually send a Christmas letter thought it may turn out to be a Happy New Year letter.

Christmas Eve 2007 in Cambridge: The River Cam

So, here we are on Boxing Day. Boxing Day, December 26th, is so named because (according to lore, or in this case, Wikipedia) it's the day you give presents -- a BOX, perhaps -- to employees, the poor, people who work in various service industries, etc. It's really treated as a follow-up holiday, often with a another big meal, party, etc. More recently, it's also a big sale day. I'll be checking out that scene later today.

More Christmas things:

Christmas Crackers: No Christmas party table setting is complete without a Christmas cracker, a party favor of sorts. Its name comes from the fact that it's got a little bit of explosive in it (a really little bit), so when you pull it apart (our observation is that you share the opening of a cracker with the person across the table from you, yanking from either end), it pops, or cracks.

Crackers vary in quality and excitement value, but they always seem to contain a paper crown. And what's hysterical is that EVERYONE wears the paper crown. As we looked around the restaurant yesterday, people of all ages, all manner of dress had on their brightly colored paper crowns. When we left, we walked past the more upscale Bistro at the Hotel du Vin, and everyone in there was wearing a gold or silver foil crown. (They must have had posh crackers.)

Then, there's usually a joke in the cracker (typically a dumb joke) and party favor of some sort -- on Christmas day, I got a keychain and JT got a pen, but JT's favorite was at the company party, where his Christmas cracker contained a protractor.

Then, after you've made it through the dinner wearing your silly paper crown, you eat Christmas pudding. First, "pudding" is a synonym for dessert, not a specific dessert item made by Jello or Cozy Shack. You hear people use "pudding" far more often than "dessert." Christmas pudding, though, is a very specific pudding. You start making it a couple of months in advance from various candied fruits (raisins, sultanas, currants, etc.), sugar, eggs, spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.), breadcrumbs, and booze (rum or brandy). Then you steam it in the oven for 6 to 8 hours. Cool, and place in your cupboard until Christmas. Douse again with more booze, steam for another couple of hours and serve with some sort of heavy, rich cream perhaps also spiked with booze.

Or you can go buy a mini one at the store for the sake of the blog.

This one is steeped in Courvoisier. It's also disgusting. It could also be because it's 10 a.m. Not breakfast food, that.

If you'd like to try one yourself, here's a few different recipes. The Wikipedia entry is also entertaining.

Finally, you finish your Christmas meal with coffee and mince pies. Once upon a time, mince pies actually contained meat, but these days they're diced fruit mincemeat, spices, and some more booze in a pastry crust. They're typically individual-sized, and an American friend here in Cambridge explained described the taste perfectly: "They taste like Christmas," she says. Indeed they do.

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