What are you doing for Christmas? It’s a question that most people in the western world can answer from about mid September, perhaps even earlier if you have family living overseas. By this stage, December 21st, you will have ordered the turkey, made the cake or pudding, put up the decorations, done most of your gift shopping, sent cards, scoured cookbooks for alternatives to the dreaded mushy sprouts and are wondering how you ever allowed yourself to buy such a small fridge – will the smoked salmon survive in the cold of the pantry?
So most of you will probably be horrified when I say I still have no plans for Christmas. I don’t know where I’ll be or who I’ll be with. I have no idea what I’ll be eating. I have made no cake or pudding, no trifle or mince pies. My fridge is not stuffed to capacity with cheeses, chocolates, cans of beer and an oversized ham. I have sent no (physical) cards. Because Christmas is just different here.
Lithuanians are incredibly relaxed about Christmas. Ask anyone what their plans are before December 20th and they’ll say “Christmas?! Sure, that’s weeks away!”. As I mentioned in this post from last year, the main celebration here in Lithuania is on Christmas Eve. This tends to be a rather solemn affair and is generally limited to immediate family only. As Arūnas’s brother and his fiancée are abroad this means there will be just three of us for dinner – myself, Arūnas and his sister. The tradition is to make twelve dishes, none of which can contain meat. Twelve dishes for three people. Hmm.
Then there’s Christmas Day itself. Although I come from a small family there was always a gang of us together on Christmas morning, handing out presents and making a racket. No matter how merry we might be, three people just aren’t going to create the kind of clamour that I’m used to.
So, what to do?
With the loss of both matriarchs in the past few years, Christmas has lost some of its lustre. Mothers are Christmas linchpins – gravitational forces that bring families back together no matter how widely dispersed around the globe they might be. Their loss not only brings a sadness but also a slight lack of motivation.
Not that I haven’t been trying. I’ve been asking Arūnas for weeks what we can do to surround ourselves with more people for the festivities. We’ve invited people over for Christmas dinner but, for genuine reasons, they haven’t been able to confirm yet. We’ve considered going away – back to Ireland, over to Australia where my sister lives with her family, even just to Vilnius to soak in the city lights and atmosphere. Being that we’re on a tight budget travelling overseas is not really an option this year. My plan for today is to check last-minute rates for hotels in Vilnius. As many hotels are geared towards Business travellers, who tend to be few and far between at Christmas, I’m hoping that there might be some great deals. That said, I’m not sure that I want to wake up in a treeless hotel room on Christmas morning.
So here I sit, drinking my coffee with a Danish flødebolle instead of a mince pie, which unfortunately cannot be sourced her for love nor money. I’ve considered making my own but I’d actually have to start with making the mincemeat as that’s not available either. Perhaps I’ll busy myself with that today. My sole attempt at creating traditional Christmas foods ended in disaster. We bought some beautiful cranberries at the Farmers’ Market and I put them on the stove with some sugar and water to make cranberry sauce. I went upstairs to get something, promptly got distracted and forgot all about them until Arūnas called up the stairs to tell me there was a strong smell of burnt sugar. I rushed down to find a blackened mass cemented to the saucepan. There it remains as, short of using a hammer and chisel, it just won’t budge. (If anyone has tips on how to remove burnt sugar & fruit from a saucepan, please do let me know.) Despite our lack of plans I am remaining calm (for the most part) and indulging myself in traditions from Christmases past. Think I’ll go and watch “Home Alone”…