This little story was first published a few years ago in The Calm Space, one of my favourite writing spaces to hang out in… The ceremony still happens today and it’s almost time for the grandkids to get involved.
Christmas is full of ceremonies. When I think about it I think of church, Christmas concerts at school, the sharing of food, the giving of gifts and the many little ceremonies that give richness to the season.
My favourite ceremony of all is one that is special to my family. It was started by my father many years ago and has always formed an essential part of Christmas Day. It is the ceremony of the brandy cream sauce.
My father was a large, gruff man who did not show his emotions very well. He was at his happiest when all his family was around him and he could see that we were fit and happy, He loved to feed us whether we needed it or not. Food was his way of showing that he cared, not that he ever ventured into the kitchen to get it!
His culinary contribution to Christmas Day was his brandy cream sauce. It was a ceremonial event involving the separating of the eggs, the beating of the cream and the magical method of combining them all into a delicious but calorie-laden, alcohol-rich sauce. My four brothers and I used to watch him make it because it amazed us that he could actually ‘cook’.
Every year, at the same time on Christmas Day, he would go into the kitchen and prepare. Every year, at the same time on Christmas Day, we would follow him and enjoy the fun.
Eventually there came a Christmas when Dad was no longer with us. I remember how empty it felt when 12 noon rolled around and there was no one in the kitchen making the sauce. My brothers and I were lost. Dad’s absence was aching in us all. It wasn’t a real Christmas without our special ceremony.
My youngest brother decided to make the sauce himself. The rest of us gathered as we used to do, but this time we were all trying to remember the recipe. We put our heads together and constructed a gorgeous cream but then it was time to add the brandy. How much? Too much? Too little? We didn’t know. It was now that our roles changed forever from passive observers to active taste-testers. I can tell you now that it takes a while for the brandy in the sauce to make itself known. That first year, our sauce was a kick to the taste buds!
The ceremony has changed, now. We are all involved in the making of the brandy cream sauce. Five of us crowd around a brandy bottle and a bowl of cream. There are elbows and tasting spoons everywhere as we jostle for a place near the action. The emphasis has shifted from the making of the cream to the tasting of it, but the ceremony that Dad started is still central to our Christmas. It’s our way of keeping Dad with us forever.