By Richard E. Bleil, Ph.D.
Being particularly clever elementary students, my sister and I asked why it is that we are putting out salami and beer for Santa Claus. After all, you’re supposed to put out milk and cookies, aren’t you? My mother, being clever herself, replied, “Don’t you think that by the time Santa gets here, he’s pretty well sick and tired of milk and cookies?!?” How can you argue with that? I mean, without getting grounded for a week.
Many years later, being particularly clever middle school students, my sister and I asked why it is that we are putting out salami and beer for Santa Claus.
Thus started the Bleil Style Christmas Eve tradition. By the way, my name is of Germanic origin, so if you are pronouncing it correctly, “Bleil” rhymes with “Style”. Let’s all try it together shall we. One, two, three, “Bleil Style.” No, you in the back, let’s all try it again. “Bleil Style”. Good. Yes, I know, but at least the voices don’t usually don’t argue with one another, although, when they do, it gets way too personal very quickly.
My mother used to make a wide variety of Christmas cookies, but we were never allowed to eat them. If dad complimented her, she might let us try one, so usually we didn’t get to try one. Instead, she would save them. On Christmas Eve, we would have an early and light supper, typically soup and sandwiches.
Soups and stews played a big role in my family. Every year, dad would make rabbit stew the day before Easter. Then he would look at us and say, “Well, I guess no Easter this year.” And he would laaauuuggghhh.
Sometime around seven, then, mom would break out the meat, cheese and cracker tray, and all of the cookies, and we would have a Christmas Eve “Snack”. Of course, my sister and I would have way too many Christmas cookies. As a side, note: I’m not diabetic; I’m just naturally sweet.
Eventually, our neighbors found out that we were doing this (or, more likely, my mother, being particularly clever, invited them). Since they usually had nothing going on the eve before Christmas (hey, that must be why they call it “Christmas Eve”!), would come over and join in the snack.
These gatherings were marvelous. There was no gift exchange, no expectations, nothing really special to the casual observer. It was just neighbors and friends visiting and sharing their company. It is an unfortunate truth, however, that I have been unable to continue this tradition.
Throughout my life, I seem to have, out of necessity or choice, had to frequently uproot and move. It seems like it takes quite a long time, if it ever happens at all, to build the friendships and neighborly connections that I recall my family had when I was growing up. Maybe it was just the way things were then, or maybe it was effort that my parents made, or the fact that they lived in the same location for quite a long time.
When I think of Christmas, like many people, I have become disillusioned by the rampant commercialism. If you feel strongly about the religious aspect of the holiday, you may feel particularly disappointed in how this message seems to have been lost in our society. But whether this is an aspect in which you are disappointed or not, most people seem to have reached a point where we are disappointed in how it has become more about gifts than communion, although, somehow, we continue to fall for that aspect.
Christmas eve, to me, embodied what Christmas should be about. Communion. Spending time with people, re-connecting with neighbors, just being with loved ones and visiting over beer and salami.