Annabel Langbein's last-minute Christmas
Great for a special occasion when you need to feed a crowd in a hurry.
Regardless of faith or culture, annual traditions like Christmas and New Year play a big part to help us feel anchored and secure in the world. Christmas brings us fir trees and sparkling lights, the exchanging of gifts and a requisite gargantuan feast.
The scent of pine needles and lilies always makes me feel like it’s Christmas. There are so many particular smells, tastes and experiences that define it and make this particular celebration memorable.
The ringing in of the New Year is another, even more universally celebrated, occasion. All over the world, hundreds of good luck rituals are woven into New Year celebrations. As we step into the unknown and uncertainty of a new year, rituals like these would once have been practiced in the name of exercising a little control over fate to ensure a good year ahead.
For the Dutch, where the circle is a symbol of success, it’s all about making and eating donuts. Greeks bake special vasilopita cake with a coin inside, bestowing good luck in the coming year on whoever finds it in his or her slice. The Japanese hold New Year’s bonenkai, or "forget-the-year parties", to bid farewell to the problems and concerns of the past year and prepare for a better new one. In Scotland, tradition dicatates that the first person to cross your threshold on New Year’s Day must bring you an assortment of symbolic gifts: a coin, salt, bread, coal and whiskey.
The thing I love most about Christmas and New Year celebrations here in New Zealand, is the way a random assortment of people will get together to celebrate. Away from our everyday lives and communities, whether tramping or camping or holidaying at the family bach, people who may not otherwise know each other will come together to celebrate. There’s a wonderful sense of inclusiveness that I have never found anywhere else.
Even if you’re knee-deep in Christmas preparations now, it’s worth thinking ahead to New Year too. For several years now, we have opted to party on New Year’s Day, rather than pulling out all the stops on New Year’s Eve. I think it was the hangovers that did it – the idea of spending the entire fiirst day of the New Year feeling shabby gradually came to lose all appeal.
Our New Year’s Day party is definitely a share-the-love affair. Everyone brings a shared plate and a bottle or two for the bar. My lovely neighbour Belinda and I set up tables and decorations and she always makes her famous potato salad.
Invariably I will cook a ham and raid the garden for flowers and salad greens. People arrive with their own stash of cutlery, plates and glasses, and pop their food and booze onto the communal table. More often than not there will be recipes swapped. I know that I’ll meet new people, as well as catching up with others I might not have seen all year. And best of all, there’s very little mess to clear up afterwards.
Whether it’s a New Year do or a last-minute Christmas, this week’s recipes are a great starting point for a special occasion when you need to feed a crowd in a hurry.