With so many celebrations to attend with family and friends over the next week, I’m feeling that we should decide when our family is going take time for ourselves to relax and just ‘be’. Don’t get me wrong - one of the best things about the holidays is spending time with so many of the people we love, but we are often juggling a schedule that can feel overwhelming. This invariably means we’re looking back as the holiday school vacation is coming to an end and thinking "Where did the time go?"

We’ll go for walks (and hopefully snowshoeing!), movie nights at home, time for reading and maybe even a few naps. But to celebrate the season, I really like to have a special meal together. I remember as a child sitting with family at the beautifully laid table on Christmas Day in the late afternoon. The table was resplendent in the red linen tablecloth and sparkling stemware that spent most of its time in what we called the "Rochester cabinet", a tall stacked wooden cabinet with glass doors showcasing family treasures on top and the solid doors on the bottom keeping the liquor safe. Setting the table was always a very special job and when the candles were lit and reflecting off the windows in the dining room, Christmas dinner seemed very magical. It is this magic that I want to keep part of our tradition.

Christmas Day for our family of four has developed into a lovely, lazy day. It unfolds slowly, starting with homemade croissants and fruit salad, taking our time with gifts and spending the morning in our pajamas. A jigsaw puzzle and new books keep the tone calm and contemplative. A walk, especially if there is fresh snow, is usually taken in the early afternoon. We are often invited to friends for a late lunch party and find that works very well with the kind of relaxed day we are having. This does means, however, that we really aren’t hungry for a large, sit down dinner, something that I’m not complaining about in the least, but when will we have this special meal?

I was talking to a friend earlier this week about her family’s favorite times at Christmas. Jan told me how after candlelight service on Christmas Eve they have a tradition of ordering Chinese food, watching Christmas movies and drinking champagne. Knowing them, it is surely a wonderful time and some day we may just have to crash it. But it did get me thinking about the possibilities of Christmas Eve. We do generally attend a candlelight service which sets the stage for a lovely evening with fancy clothes, traditional carols and candlelight. Maybe this could be our special meal at home this yearÅ 

But what about the timing? Candlelight service generally starts at 7 p.m., meaning that we get home about 8.30 p.m. There is no time to cook an extravagant meal and it adds a note of complication and, well, stress to the whole evening. This might explain why Jan’s family picks up take-out. But then I remembered tourtiere, the French-Canadian meat pie that is often served on Christmas Eve as part of the reveillon tradition.

A reveillon is held on Christmas Eve, a long dinner meant to help you stay awake, perhaps until after midnight (reveill means ‘waking’) and features luxurious and extravagant food. Tourtiere is a slow-cooked meat pie named after the vessel it was originally cooked in - a deep, heavy pot. The ingredients differ from region to region, depending upon what is available locally - coastal areas generally use a fish such as salmon while inland pork, beef and game are most common. The recipe that I have comes from the region of Quebec surrounding Montreal, seasoned with a bit of allspice and cloves as well as leaving out the potatoes that are often used elsewhere. It contains both pork and beef, the latter of which is eschewed by some traditionalists, but is a combination I think it is delicious. Buy the best meat you can, local if possible (Robb Family Farm has both), as the flavor really makes a difference.

Julie Potter is a wife, mother of two, avid gardener and passionate cook who believes good food doesn’t have to be complicated. Share your thoughts with her at j2m2glen@comcast.net.