Merry Memories of an Unforgettable Family Christmas

Whether we're gathered around the piano singing carols or playing a tipsy game of charades, Christmas time with family and friends can't be beat.

Several years ago, just a week before Christmas, my sister Phyllis acquired a new oven. Her 20-year old cooker had begun to wheeze ominously every time she swivelled the control knobs, so an upgrade was in order. The new stove was state-of-the-art. It had a built-in microwave oven, a convection oven and an electronic pad with sensors that buzzed discreetly, lights that blinked, and pale green displays that told you everything short of the next day’s weather forecast.

Christmas Day in our family followed a pattern. After morning church service, my sister and her husband, Derek, joined my parents, my husband, our two kids and me for a festive brunch at our house.

After the ritual of unwrapping the gifts stacked under our Christmas tree, Phyllis and Derek would usually scurry off home to get the turkey into the oven, so that it cooked in time for our Christmas dinner get-together at their home.

We had friends from Britain spending Christmas with us that year and after brunch, we watched the Queen’s Christmas message on TV and then lounged around, chatting. My sister seemed in no rush to get home.

“What about the turkey?” I asked her.

She threw me a smug glance. “No problem! The oven automatic timing thingy is on, and right now that little ol’ bird is sizzling and bubbling away in its juices.” She waved an airy hand. “Relax, kiddo!”

At 4:30 p.m. we all drove over to Phyl and Derek’s home. Noses twitching with anticipation we walked in the front door. But alas, no aroma of cooked turkey greeted us. Phyllis’ face went the colour of bleached paper. “Oh no!” She wailed. She opened the oven door and, yes, you guessed it! The turkey sat there pink, pimply and stone cold.

The doorbell rang. In surged more family including Phyllis and Derek’s children, their spouses and kids. “Merry Christmas!” the grandchildren yelled, throwing their arms around everyone. My sister, her expression still registering unprintable thoughts about her gleaming new stove, hugged them distractedly.

Oven coaxed to life, tree denuded of gifts and bar opened for all takers, my sister poured herself a glass of wine. The children, supplied with generous amounts of Christmas cookies, candies, pop and chips, disappeared into the basement, whooping gleefully, to play with their new toys.

The rest of us, fortified with rum punch, eggnog, brandy, ginger wine and other assorted libations, gathered around the piano to sing Christmas carols. When we ran out of carols, we belted out show tunes, and sing-along favourites, or ribald versions of campfire songs.

Our English visitors, also happily lubricated, joined the act. Digby recited the monologue “The Lion and Albert” a-la Stanley Holloway. His wife, Sarah, had a go at Carmen Miranda: “Ay-yi-yi-yi love you verrry much,” she warbled, swivelling her hips and rolling her eyes. My sister, who by then was past caring about the turkey, blasted her way through a Liza Minnelli impersonation of “New York, New York.”

The grandchildren, drawn by the sounds of adult merriment, came upstairs and were co-opted into an uproarious, if rather tipsy, game of charades. Between acts we consumed nuts, chocolate mints, shortbread cookies, Christmas cake and spicy Mexican tacos. A platter of cold cuts and cheese disappeared faster than a con on the lam.

The turkey finally emerged from the oven around midnight. By then, we’d “boom-si-daisied” done the Lambeth Walk and taken a stab at the Can-Can. Music turned up several decibels, we’d also jived, done the cha-cha, the limbo rock and the Macarena twice over.

“Yoo-hoo! Dinner is served,” my sister called out, beating an empty can with a spoon. Her announcement was drowned out by a lusty “one-two-three and a kick” as we conga’d through the living room, caterpillared our way into the dining room, and circled the table three times before being prevailed upon to please sit down!

Our friends from England send us Christmas cards every year. The last one had a note saying that if Phyllis promised to use her high-tech stove again, they’d be back here—faster than a Canadian turkey takes to cook.

Next, check out this tale of how the family dog helped save the Christmas pudding.

Originally Published in Our Canada