Memories with Richard Bleil
For my regular readers, this might seem familiar as I’m fairly certain I write about Christmas eve every year (making this my third such post). Before I go any further, let me just pause here and say, wow, have I really been writing posts every day for the past three years? (Spoiler alert: yes, yes I have.)
This is Christmas Eve, assuming it posts when I expect it to. Christmas eve for me has always been far more important than the actual Christmas Day. Far less commercialized, Christmas Eve is a time that many people go to visit with neighbors and friends that they may or may not see often throughout the year. To me, this exemplifies what I feel is the true meaning of Christmas.
Although I didn’t understand why, even as a child, I think the commercialism of Christmas bothered me. When I was seven or eight, during my “religious phase” which lasted almost three weeks, I even wanted to hold off on opening Christmas gifts until I could say a few words about Christ and the meaning of Christmas. But Christmas Eve turned into a Bleil tradition that I tried to continue a few times but with no real success.
My parents used to put out beer and salami for Santa when I was young, saying “by the time he gets to our house, don’t you think Santa is pretty tired of milk and cookies?” Well, okay, then why not brandy and cigars? Anyway, Santa drank the beer and ate the salami, and left gifts even if they did look like they were placed by a sloppy drunk. Okay, that last bit was a joke, but it seemed to work.
This tradition turned into the Bleil Christmas Eve. For supper, we would eat early and light, usually homemade soup. Then, around seven or so, the treats would come out. Mom put out what was then called a “meat and cheese tray” (today it’s called a “charcutier”, proof positive that I’m old), crackers, all of the many varieties of Christmas cookies she would make every year, and so forth. Our neighbors, who usually had no plans on Christmas Eve (but never visited us at other times of the year) would come over and join in the festivities. We just ate deli meats and cheeses and cookies and visited.
Of course, I was too young to really visit much. I always felt like a third wheel when trying to listen in to the father’s conversations (who were usually not terribly inviting for me to listen in anyway) and felt odd sitting on with the mothers’ conversations (who were at least more willing to have me join in). Usually I just felt left out, especially when I got certain “funny feelings” for our neighbor’s daughter who happened to be a state beauty champion. I wanted to spend all of my time with her, but was always too shy to do so, and certainly couldn’t have explained why the checkered pattern on my ‘70’s era pants were stretched out of shape should she ask.
Awkward pre-teen sexual angst aside, I honestly love that our neighbors just stopped over to visit and spend time. We always got along with our neighbors, and there were a few times a year that the entire cul-de-sac would meet. We had a summer party every year when one of our neighbors would bring out the volleyball net (a personal torture for me, especially the game when I ticked off the gym teacher on the block as he tried to spike on the very small and feeble kid (that would be me) whose reflexes were always just enough to deny him and position the volley ball in the perfect position for him to try again, and again, and again each time harder. In the Christmas Eve gathering, though, there were no competitive jerks, and the gathering was small, usually the dining room (where the food was laid out), kitchen and family room. Heck, we didn’t even use the living room, which is odd since that’s where our tree was every year.
This year, for Christmas Eve, I’m eating a very special gourmet salami my very good friend had bought me, some nice cheese I bought to go with it and sparkling cider. No doubt, I’ll be alone, and maybe I’ll even buy some festive cookies. I guess, in a way, I’ll be making my own meat and cheese tray (charcuterie for my younger readers), and although I’ll no doubt be alone, I’ll remember the comradery of my childhood, and think about my very many friends who live all too far away. I’ll hold them close in my heart, even if I can’t share their company.