‘Tis the season…in two short days it will be Christmas Eve. It’s a time for celebrating with family and friends and a time for traditions that make it special. In my family most of those traditions revolve around food. Christmas just doesn’t seem like Christmas without a breakfast of plum dumplings and I couldn’t imagine Christmas Eve without Russian Meat Pies. You might wonder how we ended up with a tradition of eating those tasty little meat pies on the night before Christmas when no one in my family has any Russian roots.
When I was a child my mother discovered the recipe in a newspaper she was reading and decided to try making them. They were delicious hot or cold. We enjoyed them so much that it became a special treat reserved for Christmas Eve. My Dad was working as a Hoist man in the mines back then and even though no one was working underground on the holiday he often had to work as a watchman on Christmas Eve. If he was working the 3 to 11 shift we would all get to stay up until he got home. We would have a cold supper at midnight of potato salad and Russian meat pies and celebrate the arrival of Christmas by opening our gifts before heading off to bed.
Once, he actually had to work from 11 till 7 the next morning and my mother decided to pack up a cooler with our midnight supper. Dad asked his boss if he could bring his family to work that night and once he got permission we all went to the mine together. Dad issued each of us with our own hard hats and we camped out in the Hoist room with him for the whole night. When he went to do his rounds my brother, Tom, and I went along with him. We got to see the hoist that he normally operated and the change room where each miner’s gear hung from the ceiling on a chain. We watched Dad ‘punch the clock’ by inserting a card into a machine that would punch a hole in it showing the time he passed at each of the stops on his tour of inspection. We drank tea from a thermos and ate our meat pies and potato salad pretending we were miners ourselves. Eventually we fell asleep on a bench while Mom and Dad passed the long hours of the night talking softly so as not to disturb us. It was the most memorable Christmas of all.
In my own family we have hot German Potato Salad and Russian meat pies for supper on Christmas Eve every year. It’s an International meal that I look forward to with a lot of pleasure, mostly because of the memories it evokes. We don’t eat the meat pies cold at midnight or out of a cooler the way we did when I was young but it still brings me back to those happy times in my childhood when the night before Christmas meant picnics with my Mom and Dad. Occasionally I sneak down to the refrigerator after the rest of the family is gone to bed just so I can have a cold one and remember.