Christmas Is Cooked Red Cabbage
by Lin Whitehouse

My father was a commercial traveller, he worked in Germany where      customs were
familiar but he always drove home for Christmas. That was the only gift I      needed but
wanted more. While my mother got used to his routine again he and I      busied ourselves:
selected the tree from the farm, which was dug out roots intact, and
potted in the red container we kept in the garage full of garden
     canes the
rest of the year. The scraggly lower branches were severed with      secateurs –-
slipped out of the pocket of faded corduroy trousers –-
because symmetry is balance, but before it could be
dressed the red cabbage had to be cooked, it tasted better
reheated on the day. He sliced it and washed it in the tin pan that
terry nappies were once boiled in — everything had more than one use      — purple rings
stained the pan from previous Christmases, and some years later I used      it for
tie-dying. The cabbage recipe was not written down but committed to      memory:

Fat, onions, garlic, red cabbage, caraway seeds, cloves, bay leaves,      cinnamon stick, cooking apples,
red wine, vinegar, salt and pepper, everything added when it’s time was      due and left to
simmer on the stove for at least two hours. As the sweet and sour smell      subdued the
freshness of the spruce, we peeled the protective papers from the      painted glass baubles and
systematically adorned each branch. Luminous plastic angels and      shooting stars, of German origin,
were hung on the top circle of branches and glowed eerily at night.
     An outline of a silver star with
dangling bell took the place of other people’s fairies. Red apples were      polished to resemble
hand-sized rubies and laid on the bottom branches along with      Lebkuchen stars, threaded into edible
leys. Candles in their metal-petal holders were clipped on judiciously then      finally Lametta, strands of
silver foil, were draped over the branches like skinny scarves.

There had been arguments about the present giving: on the eve or on the      day, it didn’t
matter to me but my mother won that fight and after halves of grapefruit
sprinkled with sugar had been grilled and eaten for breakfast, and bacon      and eggs fried and
digested, we opened our presents. The candles were only lit on      Christmas Eve but the
comforting aroma of cooked red cabbage lingered until New Year, when      my father
packed his samples and left for another trip.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: All holidays are special but Christmas is more than most. With just days to go as I was unpacking decorations to put up for Advent, I couldn’t resist reminiscing about my childhood Christmases when I used to sit on the wall outside our house in the freezing cold (it always seemed to snow back then) waiting for my dad to drive down the hill and the celebrations to start. Before Christmas day I cook big pans of red cabbage from memory — ingredients are never weighed — and still love the smell of the cooked cabbage!

Black Forest 1958

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: I managed to find this one of me (in the middle) on holiday in 1958 with my German cousins in the Black Forest.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lin Whitehouse lives in a small English village with her husband and two sons. She works for a children’s charity and writes whenever she can. Her writing has appeared in poetry magazines and anthologies, including Turbulence, Writing Magazine, and The Great Gatsby and short story anthologies including Whitby Abbey Pure Inspiration. Her short plays have been performed around East and North Yorkshire and recently as part of 2015 Cornucopia Festival.