I hope you'll indulge me a little, in this post with no toy soldiers.
The end of the calendar year is laden with tradition. Some folks celebrate various holidays, while others choose not to, but regardless of how you do it, you probably have a few things you always do, because you've always done them.
My family celebrates Christmas (despite not being religious at all), and one of the things my Dad has always done is cook a Christmas pudding (or six). I remember one of dad's old friends coming over each year, and the two of them would spend a bit of time in the kitchen, then head down to the garage to boil the Christmas puddings in an old "copper". That would take time, so they'd amuse themselves with a few beers and a lot a chatting about all sorts of things.
In the end, we'd have a lot of traditional Christmas puddings. One would be consumed on Christmas Eve at the aforementioned friend's place (with his family), and another one or two at Christmas lunch with my Mum's whole family (when there was only one for lunch it was a real race to get a piece as they'd disappear in a flash).
Well, I've celebrated the last 10 Christmases in the US, 12,000 miles from my old family traditions. Well, almost all of them. Mum and Dad would send me a Christmas pudding each year. Sometimes after three weeks in the care of two countries postal systems I'd need to cut a bit of mould off the pudding before we could tuck in, but they were always great. I'd take it along to the Christmas Eve dinner with my wife's family, and share it around (although there has often been a distinct lack of good custard).
This year I thought I'd save my parents $50+ in postage (those puddings can weigh a tonne), and I decided to make my first Christmas pudding. The somewhat disgusting looking stuff in the bowl above is the batter. The ancient recipe my Mum sent through called for raisins, sultanas, and currants. Here in the US, all of these things are referred to as raisins (of some description) so I had to make a few compromises. In addition to loads of dried fruit (which is soaked for 24-hours in rum, for those interested) the ingredients list is nice and simple: flour, butter, eggs, bicarb soda, and some lemon peel.
After mixing the ingredients and pouring them into the center of the pudding cloth, it was all boiled for 4 hours. This shot is of the pudding once it has been removed from the pot and left to firm up completely. It hung like this overnight. I remember some years when there would be up to eight of these hanging from the ceiling of the garage for a week or more.
When it came time to cut it open on Christmas Eve dinner (actually held a few days early this year), I found that a few of my adjustments had worked, others needed a tweak, but it was well received by my wife's family.
Sometimes traditions are not good, sometimes they do more harm. We should seek to remove them from our lives, particularly if they hold us back or prevent growth.
But those traditions that are, at their core, about love and family and growth, should be cherished and evolved and spread. One of my cousins back in Australia also decided to try her hand this year (and apparently she was a little more successful than I was) so for the first time in more than 40 years, Dad could relax a bit during December, without the worry of shipping deadlines, or working out how many orbs of delicious pudding the clan would devour on Christmas Day.
The torch has been passed... although I have a sneaking suspicion he'll make one anyway, just for those late night snacks ; )
To all I wish you a happy and healthy end of year period, with plenty of "family", either the one you were born into or the ones you've met along the way!
PS. Toy soldiers should be back in the next post ; )