Oyster Crackers

– Recollections of Christmas Eve, Abt. 1958 – Cuba, North Dakota

Of course it was Christmas Day that included a holiday feast with ham, turkey and all the trimmings, but it was the Christmas Eve meal that would become our family’s favorite tradition.  My parents loved oyster stew and crackers, and would served it as our family’s “pre-gift” Holiday Eve treat. Unfortunately, my brother Eugene and I wouldn’t eat it. To placate us, the youngest of the six children, they would serve a second type of soup, Campbell’s chicken noodle. Even though we had different soups, we all shared the other part of the menu, the little round oyster crackers.

Other holiday meals included richer foods, but the sights and smells of the chicken and oyster soups along with the crackle of the cellophane bag containing those crackers, remain in my memory.

The soups were served at our table in the pots they were warmed in. Our entire family would sit around the Formica topped kitchen table with its matching vinyl and chrome chairs and would wait to eat until Joanne, the only girl of the six children, lead us through Grace saying, “Bless us Oh Lord…”

My mother would dish up the soup. She knew we had to finish the meal quickly! The doors to the rest of the house had been closed, to allow Santa to enter and bring our gifts. Those same doors would not be reopened until everyone was finished with their soup and oyster crackers.

In most families it would be the children who would have a hard time waiting, but not in ours. It was mother who poked and prodded us to finish the meal. Mom loved Christmas! She could barely stand the wait to see what Santa had brought. While we slurped at our soup, she would exclaim, “Did you hear that? I think I heard Santa’s reindeer on the roof!” Or, if that didn’t work, she would shush us and say, “Do you hear sleigh bells?”

We children loved the time between our parent closing the hallway doors and waiting for them to open them again, allowing us into Christmas. Anticipation warmed us as our mother stoked the fires of our imagination. It was a magic time. It was the time when everything we dreamt of was possible. Even as children, we sensed we should hold that feeling and revel in that moment.

After the meal was finished, the doors would be opened and we would be allowed to open the gifts that were left for us. Memories of the gifts that my parents had scrimped and saved for all that year have long ago faded. I’m sure we were given lots of toys and candy along with new clothes to wear for Christmas. I vaguely recall trying to learn the rules of new games and my older brother’s exasperation as he read the instructions out loud to us over and over again. But these are distant memories.

Christmas days come and go; gifts under a tree fade with the years. Only the best moments of Christmas stay with you forever.