When I was growing up in Texas, our family tradition was to have turkey for Thanksgiving and ham for Christmas. That might have been related to my mother’s Ohio upbringing, since most of my friends had turkey for both holidays, except for my friend Kathy.
Kathy’s grandmother was Mexican, and their family's Christmas tradition was tamales. The grandmother, who could never say my name and always called me Beulah, would prepare a hog’s head and keep it in a big tub in the pantry. She would spend hours in the kitchen making the masa to go on the cornhusks, and then chop off meat from the hog’s head to fill the tamales. I always looked forward to Christmas visits to Kathy’s house, and tamales are still one of my favorite foods.
My mother was, at best, an adequate cook, and she passed on to me her lack of interest in spending time in the kitchen. So our Christmas ham was usually a canned ham, which, as I remember, was just a rung or two above Spam. When I married and had a family to feed on Christmas Day, I discovered spiral-cut honey hams and continued the tradition until the last little Pruett had left the nest. I don’t believe I’ve had a ham in my house since.
Czechs have a traditional Christmas meal, too. If I asked you to guess what it is, you couldn’t, unless you happen to be Czech, as it is carp soup and roasted duck. I’m not a fan of duck, but I would eat it if it were on the table. But carp? I just haven’t been brave enough to try that yet. I do like fish and I especially like catfish, and they are pretty ugly creatures, so I’ve surprised myself that my reluctance to try carp is based on how unattractive they are. That, plus I know that goldfish are carp, and it just doesn’t seem right to eat a family pet.
But Czechs are all about Christmas carp and, a few days before Christmas, you will find vendors on most streets with big vats of water and live carp swimming in them. A buyer will indicate the carp he or she wants, and the vendor catches and prepares it right there on the street. The poor carp, who was chatting with his tub buddies just a moment ago, is now on a chopping block with a cleaver aimed at beheading him. The blood literally runs in the street, and it is quite unappetizing for me.
I will be spending Christmas in Prague this year but, perhaps, it is time to look for a ham.
For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.