As we search for addresses,
stamps and envelopes, the aroma of 'rabanadas', a Portuguese holiday delicacy made with
bread and wine, reaches us from the kitchen where my mother is cooking.
The scent takes
me back to December 24th, 1976.
It's two o'clock in the morning as I carefully
crawl out of my bed in our California home so as not to wake up my older sister. I make my
way to the only lit room in the house: the kitchen.
In a pot I see the largest turkey in the world
basting in water, lemon and salt. The kitchen table is covered with plates of Christmas
cookies. Bags of gifts are sitting in the corner waiting to be wrapped. A familiar aroma
is in the air as I watch my mother coat a rabanada in sugar and cinnamon. On the stove
another wine-soaked bread slice is sizzling in a frying pan. My mother will continue
preparing what will be a Christmas Eve dinner for over twenty people.
Later on, in the early evening, the guests
will begin arriving. Most of them are Portuguese immigrants, like my family, living on the
outskirts of Los Angeles.
The presents pile under the large, artificial
Christmas tree as the house is filled with laughter, music and ten anxious kids who are
wondering if they're going to get the toys they saw on television.
The great parade begins as all the food is
brought out to the dining room. It's a mish-mash of Portuguese and American Christmas
The kids are especially happy with the turkey
that substitutes boiled codfish, the traditional Christmas Eve meal in Portugal.
Just before midnight my mother brings out the
'Bolo Rei', the Portuguese version of fruitcake, that took her hours to bake from scratch.
Once the adults are happily munching away on cake and coffee, the children will gather
around the tree.
My mother, with a dazzling smile that doesn't
betray her fatigue, will begin to hand out the presents.
Four years later
my sister and I are eating boiled codfish, potatoes and leeks on Christmas Eve.
Yes, my parents have returned to their native
land and we now live in a remote village (population 130) in Northern Portugal called
Valbom S�o Pedro.
But that's not the only thing that has
changed. My mother isn't up all hours of the night cooking. Boiled codfish doesn't take
that long to prepare for a family of four. And remember the 'Bolo Rei' that took forever
to make? Well, now we can just buy it in a bakery.
The guests have dwindled to just a few that
join us for coffee on Christmas Day. Gifts are now thought about months before December
since many of them are hand-made and the Christmas tree is carefully chosen and chopped
down from the dense forest behind our home.
One year my sister and I orchestrate 'The
Codfish Revolt'. Turkey isn't a popular meal in that area of Portugal and after a long
search, fuelled by threats that we won't show up Christmas Eve, my mother finds a farmer
that will sell her a turkey.
The only problem: it's still alive.
He says it's bad luck to kill his own farm animals.
We all look very uncomfortable as the old
farmer explains that it will be easier to control the large bird if you give it a shot of
whiskey before cutting its throat.
Suddenly it's decided we don't want turkey
Sensing our disappointment, my mother
surprises us with a stuffed roasted chicken for Christmas Eve dinner.
Some eight years
later I find myself in Canada,
where I was born just before my parents moved to California.
season is colder now but a lot prettier when it snows.
What I now pass on to my daughter is a
combination of holiday traditions from all the places I have lived.
We compromise when it comes to holiday meals:
codfish on Christmas Eve and turkey on Christmas Day.
Opening crackers, a Canadian custom with
English roots, introduced by my British husband has become our daughter's favorite
Many of the gifts we exchange are hand-made.
This I believe has taught Alana the importance of giving gifts from the heart.
twenty-two years I realize that many things have changed in our
traditions, but one thing has managed to remain constant.
celebrate Christmas as a family.
� Anna Rodrigues
Submitted as part of the Christmas Travel Writing Contest