Merry Christmas. I'm not giving you a present. Sorry. No soup for you. It's not that you are on my naughty list. Because, quite frankly, most of you that I know certainly are. But, I'm not buying gifts this year.
I am making the pierogies.
I'm a giver. Giving of myself. My time. My heart. My soul. And, during the one time we all give, I'm just all out of giving. It's not that I don't care. I do. It's not that I don't love. I do. It's just that I no longer think that putting something in a box will show that I care about you. I'd rather just show you that I care about you.
Christmas memories for me were my grandmother making her home made pierogies. She would grind the meat. She would roll out the dough. She would stuff dozens of pierogies. My grandfather would be right by her side. Her sous chef. Listening to her orders. Helping her wherever he could. That's what he did. He was a helper. A giver. On Christmas. In life.
My sister and I would head over to grandma's late afternoon and do a somewhat ceremonial assisting in the pierogi making. Really all we did was stuff the last of the pierogies, boil, and place in the dish. We weren't there for the hours of work before. But, we still felt like we helped grandma in some way. Really, it was about dipping a hand in the tradition. If only just barely.
As grandma got older (She died at 102 1/2 years) I started to think about how someday we wouldn't have these pierogies awaiting us for Christmas dinner. Because, someday, grandma would no longer be around. The thought saddened me. No grandma? No tradition passed on? How could this be? So, I was determined. Determined to learn from grandma her art of pierogi making. So, in her late 90's I started shadowing her on Christmas. Watching her. Helping her. Asking for the recipe. Never getting the recipe. You see, grandma's don't have the actual recipe for their signature dishes.
It's all in their head. Years and years and years of making it. It doesn't need to be written down. It's tattoo'd inside their brain.
However, I bugged her for years to give me the exact recipe. I told her that I needed it to to pass along. For the future generations.
Finally, one year she gave in. She wrote it down. Kind of. I still think she left some things out. I would have also added : plus a little sprinkle of grandma's love.
**** Here's a tip for anyone with family recipe's >>>>> Have your relative write the recipe in their handwriting. Attach it to the back of a printout of the same recipe. Laminate. Each time you make this recipe you can see the person's handwriting who passed it onto you. It'll make you smile each time. I guarantee it.
So, from that year forward, the Christmas pierogi making was MY JOB. The first year I thought I was going to die. Three days. ALL day. Grinding meat. Rolling dough. Stuffing pierogies. Boiling pierogies. Frying pierogies. Wanting to nap. For hours. I have NO idea how my grandma did it all those years. It's hard. It's time consuming. It's been a bit better over the years. Some modern tools (manual pasta machine grinder instead of rolling, for one) have helped. But, it's still hard. Lot's of hours. By myself. No help. Each year I question why I'm doing it. Does anybody really care. But, then I remember, that, yes, it's worth it.
That first year I was SO nervous about what grandma would say. I was waiting for her to take her first bite. Second bite. Third bite. No comment. What?!?! Finally, she says, "The dough is a little thick, Andrea, but very good" I had to giggle at her comment about my imperfection because it was SO my grandma to not realize she was making backhanded compliments. But, I took it as a full on compliment all the way. In my eyes I passed Grandma's Pierogi Making 101. Yeah me.
I was an over giver. I buy good presents. But, then I keep grazing. Keep buying. Over buy. My family received excellent gifts from me. But, really, in the end, did they care what I bought them? Did they even remember what I bought them? I doubt it. But, they do remember now that I make the pierogies. We don't give these puppies up easily. We even have to divide up the leftovers. Nobody gets more than someone else. We eat them for the next week. If you don't eat them someone else will. So, it's your call. So, we eat them!
I don't remember any Christmas gifts I received as a child. But, I do remember my grandma and grandpa at their kitchen table, working hard at making the pierogies. Grandpa being the helper elf. Grandma the ultimate Santa. That's what it's about. The family. The time. The love. Not the sweater from The Gap.
I have several friends dreading the upcoming holidays. Whether it's that it's never a good time with family or friends. Or that this year is different. They have lost a special loved one in the last year. There are troubles in the family. Someone is ill. It's the dark cloud hanging over the holiday. I don't know what to tell you. Except that love the ones you're with. Even if it hurts. Because they may not be there next Christmas. For whatever reason. And, if it's too painful to do that get out there with someone who can give you that deep breath, that hug you need, the shoulder you need. A friend. A neighbor. A running partner. And, if you know someone who is in need of that special love this year, call them, talk to them. Tell them you care about them. Give them an extra hug. Invite them over for Christmas dinner. Just because. Because it's not something you can put in a box. It's so much more.
I'm in the middle of Day #3 of Pierogipalooza. I'm tired. Tomorrow, I will head out to buy little stocking stuffers. Yeah, because I just can not have a little something, something. I know, I know....I can't help it. It's who I am.
But, still, you won't be receiving any gifts from me this year. I am a bit sad about that because I have met some really amazing people this year who are certainly gift worthy. However, I hope that my friendship. My ear. My shoulder. Me. Everything I have given you throughout the year is better than anything I could ever put in a box and tie with a bow.
However, if you are really, really, nice, you just may get a pierogi.