The first blossoms on this year's Paper Whites, which just two weeks ago were little brown bulbs living in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator, almost forgotten. Every year it is a gamble - will they be in bloom for Christmas. Have I planted them too early? Too late? They are one of our cherished Christmas traditions (along with my mother's recipe for shortbread and Oyster Stew on Christmas Eve) You will notice the cunning support that Husband devised for the Paper Whites from tomato cages, - as they mature and the blossoms grow heavy they are inclined to fall into one another, and spread themselves in disarray, This year they are neatly contained , growing straight and true, and filling the room with their beautiful scent.
After many years of trial and error I have a pretty good idea when I should go out and gather gravel, fill the bulb pots half way up, and then place the paper whites in the bowl. However, there is always the possibility they will be overlooked, and not planted on time, - but usually the little dinger goes off in my head and sings "paper whites, paper whites", so they are fragrant and pure at Christmas time. And available for gifts.
About the other traditions? Everybody loves the shortbread. My mother's recipe calls for rice flour and castor sugar, which makes a fine, rich biscuit, and they truly do melt in your mouth. I do remember the care she took in adding just two tablespoons of flour at a time, mixing it carefuly, then adding two more tablespoonsful, until it was a lovely golden mass, ready for kneading.
While Husband was overseas she sent him these delectable shortbreads in Care packages, so he was well initiated into their delights.
As for Oyster Stew, - I brought this custom to our marriage from my own childhood home. Our children grew up with the tradition, and love the Christmas Eve oysters. The in-laws? Well, it is a touch and go situation with some of them. A few will have a little broth, and some will revel in the richness of the oysters, - we always have an alternative for those who would go home hungry, or overstuff themselves with shortbread and other goodies.
It is a magic time, - each year as the grandchildren grow older and their worlds' expand, I think that perhaps it is time to stop having Christmas Eve and Oyster Stew at Grandpa and Grandma's, but each year brings the same old holy sorcery..... The alternatives to the main dish may grow smaller, - the goodies may not be as varied, but the love and the warmth and the traditions remain the same.
And all who are absent from the party are here in our hearts......loved and cherished wherever they are.