My daughter Alana, knows that it will be Christmas soon when I get ready to send out holiday greetings to family and friends in three different countries.

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Celebrating Christmas as a Family -- by Anna Rodrigues

My daughter Alana, knows that it will be Christmas soon when I get ready to send out holiday greetings to family and friends in three different countries.

As we search for addresses, stamps and envelopes, the aroma of 'rabanadas', a Portuguese holiday delicacy made with bread and wine, reaches us from the kitchen where my mother is cooking.

The scent takes me back to December 24th, 1976.

It's two o'clock in the morning as I carefully crawl out of my bed in our California home so as not to wake up my older sister. I make my way to the only lit room in the house: the kitchen.

In a pot I see the largest turkey in the world basting in water, lemon and salt. The kitchen table is covered with plates of Christmas cookies. Bags of gifts are sitting in the corner waiting to be wrapped. A familiar aroma is in the air as I watch my mother coat a rabanada in sugar and cinnamon. On the stove another wine-soaked bread slice is sizzling in a frying pan. My mother will continue preparing what will be a Christmas Eve dinner for over twenty people.

Later on, in the early evening, the guests will begin arriving. Most of them are Portuguese immigrants, like my family, living on the outskirts of Los Angeles.

The presents pile under the large, artificial Christmas tree as the house is filled with laughter, music and ten anxious kids who are wondering if they're going to get the toys they saw on television.

The great parade begins as all the food is brought out to the dining room. It's a mish-mash of Portuguese and American Christmas customs.

The kids are especially happy with the turkey that substitutes boiled codfish, the traditional Christmas Eve meal in Portugal.

Just before midnight my mother brings out the 'Bolo Rei', the Portuguese version of fruitcake, that took her hours to bake from scratch. Once the adults are happily munching away on cake and coffee, the children will gather around the tree.

My mother, with a dazzling smile that doesn't betray her fatigue, will begin to hand out the presents.

Four years later my sister and I are eating boiled codfish, potatoes and leeks on Christmas Eve.

Yes, my parents have returned to their native land and we now live in a remote village (population 130) in Northern Portugal called Valbom São Pedro.

But that's not the only thing that has changed. My mother isn't up all hours of the night cooking. Boiled codfish doesn't take that long to prepare for a family of four. And remember the 'Bolo Rei' that took forever to make? Well, now we can just buy it in a bakery.

The guests have dwindled to just a few that join us for coffee on Christmas Day. Gifts are now thought about months before December since many of them are hand-made and the Christmas tree is carefully chosen and chopped down from the dense forest behind our home.

One year my sister and I orchestrate 'The Codfish Revolt'. Turkey isn't a popular meal in that area of Portugal and after a long search, fuelled by threats that we won't show up Christmas Eve, my mother finds a farmer that will sell her a turkey.

The only problem: it's still alive.
He says it's bad luck to kill his own farm animals.

We all look very uncomfortable as the old farmer explains that it will be easier to control the large bird if you give it a shot of whiskey before cutting its throat.

Suddenly it's decided we don't want turkey that much.

Sensing our disappointment, my mother surprises us with a stuffed roasted chicken for Christmas Eve dinner.

Some eight years later I find myself in Canada, where I was born just before my parents moved to California.

The festive season is colder now but a lot prettier when it snows.

What I now pass on to my daughter is a combination of holiday traditions from all the places I have lived.

We compromise when it comes to holiday meals: codfish on Christmas Eve and turkey on Christmas Day.

Opening crackers, a Canadian custom with English roots, introduced by my British husband has become our daughter's favorite Christmas tradition.

Many of the gifts we exchange are hand-made. This I believe has taught Alana the importance of giving gifts from the heart.

Looking back twenty-two years I realize that many things have changed in our traditions, but one thing has managed to remain constant.

We always celebrate Christmas as a family.

© Anna Rodrigues

Submitted as part of the Christmas Travel Writing Contest

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