Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Season of Good Cheer

And now begins the holiday season—the season of good cheer—the stores are already decorating for Christmas, it has already snowed once, and Thanksgiving is just around the corner, ready to usher us into the month of December. I have been celebrating Thanksgiving in Oslo since I moved here in 1989. The first year I was here Trond and I scoured the city looking for a large turkey, and finally found one in a supermarket called Coop OBS. I think I paid around 70 dollars at that time for the turkey; prices have come down considerably since then. Turkey is now much more popular than ever before and can often be served at Christmastime instead of the traditional baked pork ribs and meat cakes. But in 1989 it was a novelty and many of our friends enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner at our house. I would make turkey with bread and onion stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce (it wasn’t easy years ago to find fresh cranberries either), corn bread or muffins, pumpkin pie and mincemeat pie. What I would often do on my annual trips to New York was to stock up on the things I needed for Thanksgiving—canned pumpkin, ground corn flour, dried mincemeat and fresh cranberries that I usually froze until I needed them. It’s now fairly easy to find pumpkins; I bake the shell and scrape out the soft pumpkin in order to make pies and bread. In later years I have begun to make pumpkin soup and it has become a favorite. Sometimes my mother or friends would send me what I needed for Thanksgiving by regular mail and that was always nice. I remember that a former colleague from Sloan-Kettering who was doing a guest sabbatical at my hospital institute in 1991 smuggled a turkey and fresh cranberries in his luggage on a return trip to Oslo after a short visit to the USA. The cranberries got smashed and ended up staining his clothing, but we did enjoy the turkey and it made for a great story afterwards. That was of course pre-9/11; nowadays you would not be caught dead doing anything like this—you would never get your luggage through security. We have celebrated Thanksgiving several times with colleagues (mostly American) and that has been fun too—nice to get together with other Americans and celebrate what really is the most ‘American’ of USA holidays. And many of them knew exactly where to go in Oslo to get this or that item that was needed for the Thanksgiving meal.

My stepdaughter Caroline really likes pumpkin pie and I enjoy making it for her. She has also learned to make it herself. I love it too and am always glad when there is pie left over after Thanksgiving. Finding evaporated milk to mix into the pie filling was not easy years ago but it is easier now. It was always a challenge to find what I needed for Thanksgiving but I have always managed to do so each year. It has also been a challenge at times to actually prepare the meal. I baked a Thanksgiving turkey for the first time in 1989 in an old electric oven that had once belonged to my husband’s parents. That was a huge mistake, because every time I opened the oven door to baste the turkey, the temperature would drop dramatically, and then the oven would take a long time to heat up again. Suffice it to say that our company showed up at around 6pm but the turkey wasn’t ready until around 10pm. I learned from that experience!

I usually prepare food for Thanksgiving and my husband takes care of food for Christmas. We usually have traditional Norwegian food for Christmas and I look forward to it each year—pork ribs, meat cakes, sour white cabbage, sweet red cabbage, potatoes, and of course aquavit (it has to be expensive because that tastes best). He also makes salted sheep ribs (called pinnekjøtt) and serves them together with a turnip/carrot puree and potatoes (this meal is more typical of West Norway); it is excellent.

I look forward to Thanksgiving and then the Christmas season each year. I don’t think I would make it through the long gray dark winters without these holidays to look forward to. They get me through November and December; then there are the months of January and February to suffer through and then we’re on our way to spring. I am often reminded of my parents at the holidays—they also enjoyed preparing for Thanksgiving and Christmas and it was a special time for us. After my father died, my mother continued to celebrate Christmas at her house and we often went there. She always enjoyed Christmas shopping and it was always fun to shop with her. She always overspent and we were always telling her not to do so. But she never listened and in truth this was fine because we knew this time of year meant a lot to her. We would watch the Christmas shows and films together—‘A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, It’s a Wonderful Life, Scrooge, A Christmas Carol, Home Alone’—and I still watch them. I’ve added to the list with ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ as well as ‘Dinner for One’ (Same Procedure as Last Year with Miss Sophie and her butler—very funny if you’ve never seen it).  I miss my parents especially at this time of year, but I know they are watching over me and us and sending their love and best wishes for happiness and good cheer. My parents never forgot the less fortunate at Christmas—there were always extra donations for the poor and the purchases of clothing and food for the different charity drives that were set up to help them. This is the way we were raised and it was a good way to be raised—to think of others and to want to help the less fortunate. And at Thanksgiving it is good to be reminded of all the blessings we in fact have. I know that reminder is good for me—to forget my complaints and small woes, because how could they possibly compare with what the poor and the starving have to face every day?  

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