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Community and social events add seasoning to the season

Andrea Macko, Dishing It Out

I think it’s safe to come out now, all you Christmas fans. With Remembrance Day respectfully passed and our own Santa Claus Parade this Friday, the holiday season will soon be in full swing.

The older I get, the more I anticipate this time of year. As kids, Christmas means presents and two weeks off of school. As adults, this time of year takes on an entirely different meaning, for, buried under all the obligations, the buying, and the baking, comes a sense of surprise and wonder that can’t be compared.

You can’t deny that tradition makes up a big part of the joy of the season. From time-honoured religious services to family gatherings, we collectively crave these annual routines: they bring a warm sense of stability to our existence. You can mark the passage of time by who attended — or missed! — your Christmas dinner, the year your child played Joseph or Mary in the church pageant, or when a relative was expecting at your family Christmas party.

But these traditions often hold surprises that provide the season with its mirth and magic — and I’m not talking about the presents under the tree. Maybe at one of the upcoming bazaars, you’ll hear that good bit of news about a friend. Maybe at the annual office Christmas party, you’ll be pleasantly overwhelmed by just how nice a certain co-worker looks when they’re all cleaned up. Or maybe it will be something a little deeper, as my husband and I experienced during our first Christmas here in St. Marys: three couples, mere acquaintances at the time, were kind enough to drop off Christmas treats to the “new folks in town” who might need some cheering up and neighbourly hospitality at a challenging time of year.

This potent combination of tradition and surprise extends to the myriad of parties and other social events we’ll all be attending over the next six or so weeks. Chances are you’ll be getting dressed up at least once or twice, and few things are as splendid as zipping up a beloved party dress or ridiculous festive sweater. The great thing about dressy clothes is that they stay in style longer and are worn less, so you can re-wear them often and reminisce of parties past, or even borrow from a similarly-sized friend as required. Reward your frugality and have a little fun with some fanciful costume jewellery or seductively sparkly shoes to make something old entirely new.

You can’t talk about Christmas traditions without talking about food… some would argue that alcohol provides that necessary element of surprise! All of us have our specialties that, much like that favourite outfit, we trot out at this time of year. And if you’re energetic enough to be playing party host, it’s best to set your table with many of these, as you’ll likely know your guests’ palates. But try something unusual (make it ahead of time to ensure it is delicious) to get conversation going at the buffet table. If you’re stocking the bar, play this game at the LCBO: bring home an oddball bottle of liquor (look for a label in a foreign language) to give some curious competition to the usual boozy suspects. Who knows — you may spark some great memories or uncover a talent.

As much as we know and love what’s coming over the next few weeks, I’m looking forward to those unexpected moments that give the Christmas season its wonderful glow. The key is, I suppose, not to get overwhelmed in keeping the traditions alive, so your spirit remains open to the wonders of the season.

Bagna Cauda is a traditional Italian dip enjoyed during the Christmas season that’s surprising in its addictiveness (don’t be put off by the anchovy). Also, its name translates to “warm bath,” which might just be what you need after a festive night out!

Bagna Cauda
(from epicurious.com)

3/4 cup olive oil

6 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature

12 anchovy fillets

6 large garlic cloves

Assorted fresh vegetables cut into bite-size pieces

1 loaf crusty Italian or French bread, cut into 2-inch sections

Blend oil, butter, anchovies and garlic in processor until smooth. Transfer to heavy medium saucepan. Cook over low heat 15 minutes, stirring, occasionally (sauce will separate). Season with salt and pepper. Pour sauce into fondue pot or other flameproof casserole. Set pot over alcohol burner or gas table burner to keep warm. Serve with vegetables and bread.

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