When driving to my Grandparents’ house when I was little, especially in the winter, my parents would sing “Over the River and Through the Woods" with us every time. We lived about 10 minutes away and singing the song a few times helps keep us little kids occupied in the car. Plus my mom was close to her mother, so we saw the place as Grandmother’s house.
When we came to Canada from New Zealand, we didn’t have family to celebrate with on special occasions like birthdays and Christmas. Our parties and feasts were small and rather flat. One year, we decided to take our three children to the Christmas Eve service of lessons and carols at the cathedral in Toronto and then to dinner at an Italian restaurant. We even bought our son a jacket to wear. Life was more formal in those days.
On December 24th, we drove into the city and found we were too late to enter the church. It was already packed with people. We made our way to the restaurant for an early dinner and were shocked to find it closed. We visited other Italian and German restaurants nearby and they were also shut for the evening. At the time, New Zealand had few immigrants and we had no idea of the importance of the traditional European Christmas Eve dinner.
The kids were becoming hungry and grumpy as we searched for an eating place with an open door. We ended up in Chinatown. We hadn’t been exposed to much Chinese cuisine in our lives. We’d come from a country where meat and potato eaters like my father considered boiled rice on his dinner plate to be exotic.
Although we were cautious with our menu orders, the children were quite adventurous and we were surprised by their enjoyment of such new things as oyster sauce on bok choy. So our rather disastrous evening turned out to be a success and became a tradition. Every December 24th since then we have celebrated with Asian food. And our little family of five has increased by twenty people. I wonder if our traditional meal will continue when our grandchildren have kids of their own. If so, I hope they’ll be told the story behind the food.