St. Stephen’s Day (murders)
The day after Christmas, house a warm clutter of wrapping paper waiting to be sorted and folded for next year, ribbon untangled, the bowl of nuts and chocolates replenished for those watching sports (yesterday it was basketball…). I love Christmas in all its textures and paradoxes. The newspaper and televsion ads exhorting us to buy big, to take out interest-free loans — and the brightly wrapped packages of books, games, and small thoughtful things under the tree we cut from our own property. Magazines full of recipes for amazing food arranged on china kept just for this season — and our table set with the big Italian plates we’ve had for twenty years, the usual turkey stuffed with cornbread and sausage and dried cranberries (as it is every year), the mashed potatoes (because when I tried something fancier one year, there were groans of disappointment), the bowl of brussels sprouts which only John likes (though it would be unthinkable not to steam a few and grate some lemon zest over them with a dollop of butter), the cranberries cooked with port and orange peel. In the stockings, the same Terrys orange chocolates that have been a staple of Christmas since John’s childhood.
And the same music, every year. A favourite is The Bells of Dublin, the wonderful Chieftains cd with contributions from everyone from Marianne Faithful to the McGarrigles to Jackson Brown. And Elvis Costello singing “The St. Stephen’s Day Murders”:
And the carcass of the beast left over from the feast
May still be found haunting the kitchen
And there’s life in it yet we may live to regret…
The carcass of our particular beast is in a pot, waiting to be made into soup, while the leftover meat is heaped on a platter to feed us today, along with leftover carnitas from Christmas Eve (I’m not sure why we first prepared Mexican food for Christmas Eve about twenty-five years ago but I do know that it’s firmly entrenched and can’t be changed now).
Yesterday as I was making the stuffing for the turkey while others napped or watched basketball, I listened to A Chatman Christmas, a beautiful gathering of carols and choral pieces set by the Canadian composer Stephen Chatman, sung by the University of British Columbia Singers, conducted by Bruce Pullan. The harmonies are so lovely, the arrangements so original and clear (I thought of Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, another seasonal favourite): a gorgeous backdrop for the preparation of the great feast.