As usual, I spent Christmas this year with my family in New Jersey. Usually it is hard for me to differentiate one Christmas from the next.
We always go to my mom's house for Christmas Eve. The same people always show up (Mom and Ted, my siblings--spouses and families in tow, and family friends Kasia and Andrej with their peeps). My mom spends days preparing and my sister always makes the fried shrimp. I always snap a picture of my sister making the fried shrimp. Kasia always has an apron on, helping my mom, as soon as she walks through the door.
Around 7 at night, we start dinner with a prayer and then we walk around the table breaking holy bread and wishing each other a Merry Christmas. For dinner, we start with red borscht with mushroom dumplings. Then a feast of every fish my mom could buy, pierogies, the shrimp, Polish salads and sides. After dinner, we open presents, one at a time to make it last. I always play Santa. We wind down the evening with some dessert (usually torte and a cheese cake and some other goodies that Kasia devised--this year, a poppy seed cake). Then everyone goes home, and I spend the next few days with mom and Ted, sleeping lots, doing nothing and eating leftovers.
My sister Annette fries the shrimp--again!
Kasia, the best helper a Polish mom could ask for.
This Christmas was no different than any other year, only that I was home after months abroad, and it felt all more special for me to see everyone and share this time together.
We have a new addition to our family. I was excited to meet my niece Tiffany's husband Greg. He impressed us all by eating his portion of the borscht. We usually let the new people slide if they do not want to eat the blood red beet soup (more for us!) but he downed his like a true Pole. We love Greg!
Serious borscht eaters: my brother Pete, grand-nephew Dillon, new hubby Greg and niece Tiffany.
Kids make Christmas so much more fun. After years and years of adults-only holidays, we finally have little ones to entertain us. We were all charmed by Tiffany's son Dillon. He has sprouted dark brown hair since I last saw him but he is just as lovable and full of personality. He spent the first half of the evening taking pictures of himself and laughing and dancing with excitement after he saw the flash. Then he sat patiently at the table, dunking his bread in my brother's borscht and later helped everyone open presents.
Martina, who you may remember as the Queen of Poland, was just as cute, but in her own stubborn way. She pushed Dillon away when he tried to hug her. He kept trying, she kept pushing. She refused to sit at the table or take part in Christmas at all. I am sure that will change next year. She is sure to be more like her older brother Maxim (the King), who could barely sit still all night. "Are we opening the presents now?" he would ask, over and over. And when the presents were opened, he was so tired from all the excitement, he nearly fell asleep on the couch. Remember when Christmas was that fun and tiring?
Dillon: He shoots!
Martina plays hard to get.
Maxim opens a present as his dad Andrej looks on.
As usual, my mom outdid herself with all the food she prepared and as usual she said the food wasn't that good. (She's wrong!) But I had an a-ha moment when I watched her force food onto her guests. "What, Greg? No more food? Have some fish. Eat some more!" The ultimate food-pusher, my mom is just like her relatives back in Poland. I forgot how Polish my mom really is.
And kudos goes to Kasia, a big-time fan of Polish Ham, who got my favorite gift of the evening. She knows exactly what a Polish girl wants: