Back in olde times, Halloween wasn’t the big deal it is today. The trick or treating, the parties, it just wasn’t as prominent. Although, as the ladies above demonstrate, the “sexy” costume dates back to at least the 1920s (honestly, no idea where this image came from or if it’s at all Halloween-related, I just dig the flappers).
One thing that does seem to have a place in history is the Halloween postcard, and the Toronto Public Library has an extensive collection. Even better, a great number of the things are online for your enjoyment. Most seem to be from the early 20th century, and range from the adorable to the downright creepy.
Does the “bumbumbum” of Bing Crosby send shivers of fear down your spine? Do you secretly hope that when the little girl pulls Santa’s beard that it will come off and expose him as a fake? Maybe you even hope that Ralphie really will shoot his eye out with that BB gun. You, my friend, have Christmas movie fatigue. What hides under the guise of tradition mostly means getting stuck watching the same five movies every single holiday season, year after year after year. Apparently some people find comfort in this, but few movies are good enough to warrant such reverence – or repeated viewings. So here are a few truly alternative alternatives, most of which can be ordered from Amazon, or found online for download if you’re into that sort of thing.
Despite the pervasiveness of the festive season, not everybody gives a damn about turkey and stuffing and sitting around with the family listening to some pop singer butcher the holiday favourites, for a whole variety of reasons. Some folks might want a more low-key celebration (one in which they don’t have to do the washing up) and for others, it’s just, well, Tuesday.
I’ve been putting together a “Christmas Day dining for heathens” list since the first year we ran TasteTO, and it was very popular last year when I was writing for Toronto.com. So here it is again, modified and updated and fact-checked for your dining pleasure. (Parkdalers – the Beaver is closed on Christmas Day this year, so check the list below before heading out!)
As usual, I’ve not included a lot of Chinese restaurants because they are usually open on Christmas Day as a default. However, because Christmas falls on a Tuesday this year, and many Chinese-owned businesses are closed on Tuesdays, do yourself a favour and call ahead if you’ve got a favourite spot in mind.
Also, reservations are required for all of the options offered at hotels.
It used to be December was all about Santa Claus, but in recent years, North Americans are rediscovering Santa’s European sidekick. Krampus (who actually derives from Pagan mythology) is said to have accompanied Saint Nick on the evening of December 5th, leaving switches and coal for the bad children (or even abducting and torturing them) while Santa left presents for the good kids (hey, dude’s got a heavy workload as it is, why not contract out the beatings and torment?).
Krampus is now celebrated in parades, baked good and greeting cards. Here are some of my favourite Krampus images.
I am spending this week watching holiday specials. Not the cartoons and tired old movies of yore (Come on admit it, It’s a Wonderful Life is three hours of tedious, sentimental schlock.), but holiday food and cooking shows, specifically of the UK variety.
As it turns out, holiday cooking shows are the big thing for UK chefs, and anyone with an existing series, or a cookbook, or a well-known restaurant, is there on the screen, setting fire to booze-soaked puds and making the holiday hassle look easy. But because there are so many shows, so many chefs competing for viewers’ attention, they’ve all got to do something different, to jazz up the traditional Christmas dinner in some way to make it unique.
Stuart Heritage of the Guardiansees the mass of holiday cooking shows as a as testament to gluttony in the “so… much… foooooood” vein. Because, he claims, it’s all about the watching and not about the cooking. But isn’t that really the saddest part? By which I mean, I bet that your Christmas dinner this year will be exactly like the Christmas dinner you had last year, and the year before that, and the year before that… there will be no trying of new dishes from Jamie or Nigella or Gordon. It’s fun to watch, sure, but hey, don’t fuck with Christmas dinner.
I was just about haggised out after putting together last week’s round up of Robert Burns activities and dinners. Then Chef Martin Kouprie of Pangaea (1221 Bay Street) sent me a message on Twitter. He was holding a haggis competition for his kitchen staff; the winning dish would be served in the restaurant on Robert Burns Day. Would I like to come and be a judge?
I was of two minds; my experience with offal – all organs and all animals (I’ve only recently learned to like foie gras) – hasn’t been good. But then I remembered the advice of Vogue food writer Jeffrey Steingarten, that you must try a food at least ten times before you can determine that you truly don’t like it. I’d had haggis once before and found it repulsive, but here was an opportunity to try seven additional versions of the dish, created by seven different professional cooks who would be pulling out all the stops to make the lowly stuffed sheep’s stomach into gourmet fare.
We had to take the dog in for surgery last week. We knew it was coming and planned it for the week before Christmas because we knew it would be a quiet time. With all of our shopping and baking and wrapping done ahead of time, we had nothing to do but sit around, watch movies and pamper a recovering pet.
Except things don’t always work out as planned and our pooch came home with a painkiller patch on his belly – that didn’t work. By the night of the 23rd, when the anaesthetic had worn off, he was miserable and was whining and yowling in pain – straight through the night. We got zero sleep and didn’t know what to do. On the morning of Christmas Eve, I rushed over to the vet’s office for new painkillers; apparently there’s a small percentage of dogs that just don’t take to that medication – I had one of them. Needing groceries, I also stopped at the local Metro and grabbed three lobster.
Lobster are typically cheap around the holidays, and Greg and I have a tradition of eating lobster on Christmas Eve. I got the last three in the tank, telling the girl behind the counter that I only wanted them if they were alive and active. She assured me they were and boxed them up.
We went to the Festival of Lights Solstice parade last night. Which I guess is what you do if you’re not quite sure how else to celebrate the season but want to pay homage to nature, pre-Christian traditions or just generally like the sound of hippies banging drums. Because you can be sure that all the real Pagans and Wiccans who consider this an actual religious event were probably not standing around in Kensington Market last night watching people walk around with lanterns.
However, the idea of celebrating the Solstice is much more concrete to me than the birth of Jesus. Yes, I believe Jesus existed, but I’ve always taken umbrage with the idea that early Christians moved the celebration of his birth to coincide with Saturnalia and the Solstice to lure pagans to Christianity through the temptation of a bigger and better party. Almost all of the “traditional” Christmas traditions predate Christ.
Also, as someone who is really into food, sustainability, supporting farmers and enjoying the harvest, the Solstice as the huge year-end celebration just seems to make so much more sense. On the darkest day of the year, it is just so logical and down to earth to celebrate the returning of the sun, without which we could not survive. After a long year of harvesting, the Solstice celebration is not only a way to enjoy what has been reaped in the previous year but a way to look ahead to the the year and new crops and new conquests.
Not because I was ranting about how much I hate Christmas -I wasn’t and I don’t – but because I was ranting about the fact the people were complaining about having to do their Christmas shopping.
Now, I’m one of those annoyingly organized people. I make lists and check things off (much like the jolly old elf himself), and most people are not surprised to learn that I keep Christmas on a spreadsheet in my computer. That’s right – a spreadsheet. A workbook actually, with lists of what I bought for people, what they bought for me and what stuff I baked, how it turned out and who liked what (ie. no fruitcake for brother, extra Turkish delight for the folks).
I like to think I know what my recipients like and keep an eye open all year for appropriate gifts. That’s why my Grandmother’s gift was bought in August during a trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake, and that book for my brother was nabbed at a holiday book sale in 2008 at a publishers warehouse sale. Yes, that’s right… I buy Christmas gifts a year ahead.