Quirky Christmas memories, Kenning style

Allyson Kenning
By Allyson Kenning
December 22nd, 2010

I think it’s fair to say that children are most sensitive to the magic that Christmas can bring, and I know from my own experience that some of my fondest childhood memories are from around this time of year. Also some of my oddest memories come from Christmas, too. Things I remember with such vividness that they are hard to shake some 25 years later.

Take for instance the raw kidneys. Yes, you read that right! Raw kidneys. You see, my dad’s birthday is Christmas Eve, and that evening, before being dragged off to the church’s Christmas Eve kids service, we had a birthday celebration for Dad. This invariably involved his favourite dish, steak and kidney pie. My mom went to the trouble of making this from scratch, and would purchase a whole kidney from the butcher shop. She would always soak it in the dishpan before chopping it up.  I don’t know if this was to thaw it or to get some of the, um, fluids out of it, but whatever the case, one of my constant memories of Dec. 23 or 24 was going into the kitchen to get a glass of water or a snack or something, and there would be a kidney staring back at me from the blue dish pan, oozing juices or whatever into the water. It was gross! Also gross was the baking of the pie itself on Christmas Eve. Kidney has a distinct odour, one I don’t find pleasant at all, and the baking of the pie stank up the whole house. Back then, neither my brothers or I ate steak and kidney pie; mom made us hot dogs instead.  The cake made up for it, though. Dad enjoyed a good jelly roll and mom made a great Yule Log, so it wasn’t a bad meal for us kids after all, but to this day the smell of steak and kidney pie still makes me gag. The pie tradition is still going strong, by the way, but I don’t make it – either my dad makes it or someone else volunteers. Once my sister-in-law did it. I got all wigged out as I watched her chop the kidney up; it nearly made me turn vegetarian.  Another family tradition we had was the erecting of the infamous Kenning Family Fake Scotch Pine Christmas tree. We never had a real tree until I was well into my teens. When I asked my mom why this was, she said she was worried about allergies. Okay, we live in a forest here, do we not? Anyway, the deal was that the tree didn’t go up until the first day dad had off after Christmas break started. This was because the Scotch Pine was pretty darn difficult to assemble. It was not like one of these nice modern fake trees, let me tell you. No way.  You had to attach each individual branch to a green pole. The ends of the branches were colour coded. This is what made the assembly complicated. Dad was – and still is – a pretty methodical guy. Out of the giant box came all the branches and our job was to sort them into piles according to the colour painted on the end. While we did this, dad struggled to stand the pole up in the tree stand, which was always attached to a wooden ammunition box, procured from my dad’s army days, wrapped in Christmas paper.  Things got complicated after that. Once we’d sorted all the branches, dad had to read through the page of instructions indicating where to put them all. It always seem to take all day to a few little kids who were pretty sure they were the last people on the street to even put up their tree. For some reason, this colour-coding system was a difficult concept for putting a tree together and it always frustrated dad to no end, causing him to curse. Looking back it was hilarious: grown man surrounded by piles of fake tree branches, unable to figure out where they went, swearing, three little kids waiting impatiently for their dad to get it together–and mom calling from the kitchen, “Colin, stop swearing or else all the kids are going to remember of Christmas is their dad swearing at the Christmas tree!” She wasn’t far off. Succumbing to pressure yet still unsure after perusing the directions for what seemed like ages, Dad would finally act. He’d start putting branches in the central pole…incorrectly. One of us would point out that the tree was lopsided, Dad would look up at it, say, “Yes, you’re right,” and then have to disassemble the whole thing and start again.  By after dinner it would be up. When we were decorating, my mom would joke, every year: “this tree looks like a bunch of bottle brushes stuck to a broom stick!” And she was dead on–it did. As years went by, the colours faded from the branch ends, which made things even more complicated, until my brothers and I figured out how to put the tree up on our own. And it only took half an hour. When we finally started getting real trees I was in high school, and we donated the fake one to the RSS library, where a team of Grade 8s had it up in no time and in one go.  We also have the Toblerone Tradition in our family. Mom would buy us a huge Toblerone to give to Dad because that was his favourite. We took great pride in wrapping it. When we presented it to Dad on Christmas morning, he’d always shake it and say, “Oh, I wonder what this is?” We’d giggle. He’d open it and pretend to be surprised. We all had a good laugh. One year, my brother Rob decided to try to outsmart Dad by sticking two Toblerones together to change the shape and attempt to throw him off. Dad took the gift, shook it, said, “Oh, I wonder what this could be?” and acted surprised when he opened it. Giving dad a wrapped Toblerone for Christmas is something we do to this day, and every year he still shakes it, says “Oh, what could this possibly be?” and we all have a good laugh.  Finally, the best memories always came from our kitchen. My mother went overboard with baking and treats. This was when we got food we never saw any other time of the year: canned smoked oysters, Mom’s famous Cheese Ball and salmon spread, shortbread and tons of other cookies, and Dad usually got at a case of Pop Shop pop. Mom always made homemade English muffins for Christmas breakfast, and we always had a huge spread for dinner, turkey courtesy Cominco. When we were young, she even made a real plum pudding Dad would douse in brandy and set alight. We enjoyed that part of it, but we kids weren’t fond of plum pudding. We just had the custard and the other assorted goodies that were around. Or leftover birthday cake from the night before.  I never appreciated until I was older all the work my mom put into cooking and baking every year, but I certainly appreciate it now, especially as she lives currently lives in the Maritimes and I haven’t had a Christmas with her in over a decade.  I sincerely wish everyone out there a Christmas full of fun, quirky, magical memories you’ll carry with you for a lifetime.

Categories: Op/Ed

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