Thing #10 – Patchwork

We never win anything on our scratch-off tickets. Though, every year we claim, “This! This will be the year we win!” and imagine the tales we can tell of the $100 ticket. I’m not sure how it began, but Christmas Eve has become synonymous with scratchies.

Thirty years of my life were spent going to Grandma and Grandpa’s on Christmas Eve. Year over year, it was exactly the same. Bitter nights with a gazillion stars. Eating with my cousins at the card table in the living room. Avoiding the ribbon candy and chocolate-covered cherries. The impatience of waiting for dishes to be washed before opening presents. And every year we had the same Christmas Eve dinner.

Once a year, Grandma would make the Slovak meal I suspect her mother made and her grandmother before that. Also every year, Grandma would declare it would be the final year she made it because, “you kids don’t actually like this.” (lies!) Also like clockwork – she’d shoo her hands and shake her head at the soup, dismissing how it turned out. (consistently exceptional)

What did we eat, you wonder? Dinner was kolbassi (from the sausage maker down the road), bobalki (steamed bread cubes tossed with sauerkraut and drizzled with brown butter) and mushroom soup with a broth made of sauerkraut juice. If you don’t like sauerkraut, you’re not going to like Christmas Eve.

When my grandparents passed away and those Christmas Eve constants fell out of rotation, our family created a patchwork of new and old tradition. Instead of piling into the car to drive to Grandma and Grandpa’s, we’d stay home. We’d still eat our Slovak dinner, but we added in a twice-baked potato to counteract the kraut. Instead of post-dinner presents, there are games – specifically Yahtzee.

I don’t recall precisely how lottery tickets came into the picture, but I’m not surprised given our family’s healthy passion for gambling. What began as excuse to buy scratchies has turned into a full evening of games with elaborate rules about how many ticket spaces you scratch per each section of your Yahtzee card.

We’ve created a whole new set of Christmas Eve constants. There are always sugar cookies and wine. There’s a little song when someone gets a Yahtzee. There’s a giggle fit – usually at Dad’s expense. Mom drinks a Coke. Natalie will always spill something.

And I especially love that it doesn’t have to be Dec 24 to have these celebrations. Christmas Eve happens on whatever day we can be together. Regardless if we’re in KC or Wisconsin, a hotel suite in Minneapolis or an apartment in New Jersey, we make these things happen.

Being part of a family means you’re a contributor to an evolving patchwork. It was created decades before I was born and new pieces continue to be added. While it will continue to unfold, I can say with certainty there will always be sauerkraut. And spills to clean.

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