Saturday, November 26, 2011

Top Ten: This is how we do it.

Christmas 2010

Well, good people. . . . Thanksgiving has come and gone which means one thing and one thing only: The flood gates are now open for the season of jingle bells, pine cones and holly berries! And--yes--the time for latkes, dreidels, and Chanukah gelt!


That's right, I said it. And you don't EVEN have to tell me how impressed you are with my knowledge of non-Christmas holiday traditions (or especially my spelling of Chanukah with a 'c'.) Because me? I'm culturally competent like that. See, thanks to my friends of Jewish faith like Lesley M., Neil W., Natalie L., Ann I., and Nat F I have mad skills when it comes to menorahs and I'm nice with my Yiddish. Matter of fact, this came in handy last year when Isaiah's friend gave him a dreidel.

See, I would start telling y'all about how Hanukkah (sorry, it felt like I was trying too hard with that whole 'c' spelling) isn't even the same week every year or about how (contrary to what many people --okay I--used to think) the kids aren't opening a whole Christmas morning's worth of gifts for eight nights in a row.  Maaaan, I could even go so far as to tell you about how annoyed all my Jewish friends are with us non-Jewish folk going to the movie theaters on Christmas day. I mean, I would tell you all of those things, you know, because I could. . .but see, I won't because THAT is not the point of this post.

The point of this post (yes there is one this time!) is to do for you what my Jewish friends have done for me. . . .to provide you a little extra insight into my culture--just in time for the holidays!

Now. For those new here, I should share with you that I am a black woman living in the Southern United States. I was raised in California by my parents--both African-Americans and Alabama natives-- which technically means I'm not a GRITS (girl-raised-in-the-south) but I am the next closest thing.

Anyways, I have found that being up on other people's cultural traditions is a good thing. Especially as a person who works in a hospital, it always makes things so much easier when you have a bit of a clue about things outside of your own little world. And beyond that. . . . you never know who you'll find yourself down with. Or in love with. . . . .

Basically, I think the more we share about each other's cultures the better. Especially this time of year because there's no telling who might invite you over to their house to break bread. And we all know that being outside of what you know can sometimes feel like being on a completely other planet!

So in the spirit of the holidays, I bring you this week's top ten:

Top Ten Things you should know that would make participating in a holiday meal and/or celebration with my people a lot easier for you.  

Let me first say that I apologize for being a day late and a dollar short for those who this would have helped on this past Thursday. Oh, and I'm the first to say--I am NOT the authority on black folks and holidays at all.  These are things I have noted in my own experiences and nothing more. Seeing as my father is one of eleven children, I've had my share of big ol' holiday family shindigs.

Disclaimer: If these kinds of things offend you, stop reading now and go straight to the list of favorite posts for some good and unoffensive reading. Otherwise. . .

Doing the holidays with my people? It just might behoove you to know the following things:

#10   -- We are on a first-name basis . . . .

. . . .with our greens.

Isaiah on Thanksgiving with collards

"What's these? Collards or Turnips?"

"Collards with a little bit of mustards mixed in."

"These the turnips?"

"Naw, those collards, too. They just cooked all the way down. Oh and these aren't cooked with pork."

"Y'all didn't make no turnips?"

"Naw. Turnips taste too bitter."

"Not my turnips. My turnips never taste bitter."

"Hmmph. Well you shoulda brought yo' turnips, huh?"

Rule:  Don't ever show up with a pot full of mustards. I just read a wonderful article that properly described mustard greens as the "Tito Jackson" of the greens family. So true!

#9  -- Don't get too fancy. . . . .

. . .with the cranberry sauce.

*This may or may not occur depending upon whose house you have dinner at.*

"What the hell is this?"

"It's cranberry sauce."

"This ain't cranberry sauce!"

"Shhhhh! Mama's work-friend brought it. She said it's from real cranberries."

*silence, followed by keys jingling in hand*

"What you 'bout to do?"

"Maaan, I'm 'bout to go to Kroger's to get me some real cranberry sauce in the can."

(*This may or may not be based upon true events. Ah hem.)

Whew! Crisis averted.

Rule:  It's fine to make cranberry sauce from real cranberries. HOWEVER. Depending upon whose house it is, just be sure to have a can of the jellied Ocean Spray kind in your purse in case of emergency.

#8 -- Dressing for the occasion.

Dressing is what my people have next to the turkey. Not stuffing.

Stuff it!

"Oh, wow! Your cornbread stuffing is delicious."


Rule: Stovetop by Stouffer's is stuffing. My people? They make dressing. (At least in my experience.)

#7  -- "Sure! Here you go!"

This is the only proper answer to the following question:

"Excuse me--can you pass me some hot sauce?"

Which reminds me: it better not be Tabasco, either.  Regular old Lousiana hotsauce or RedHot or Crystal's will do. Those little peppers with the vinegar also may or may not be present.

Rule:  Hot sauce is a staple for my people.

#6  --  Don't forget the lyrics.

You are absolutely of my culture if you can relate to this:

"'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house
Not a creature was stirring not even a mouse. . . . ."

If in your head you immediately heard the first few bars of The Temptations singing "Silent Night" followed by someone belting out "in my mind. . . I want you to be freeeeee" after reading those words there is a 99.9% chance that you are either African-American or deeply connected to someone African-American. As a matter of fact, of all of the things I say on this top ten, this specific music is the one indisputable thing that you will absolutely find at every single house. And this? This song will be played if you go to a holiday celebration with my people.

Don't get my reference at all? Take a listen:

Now that I think about it, if you don't want to feel left out at the celebration, I would suggest listening to and learning this song--particularly if spirits are being poured. You never know if you just might be expected to be the high falsetto Temptation in a front-of-the-fireplace impromptu concert. (Yes, people. This could happen.)

Rule:  No holiday celebration is complete without the Temps singing "Silent Night."

#5  -- And while you're at it. . . .

. . .you might as well learn this one, too. NO gathering of my people during or around the holidays is official until you hear this song a minimum of twelve thousand times.

As a matter of fact, if you made a iPod playlist with just The Temps singing "Silent Night" and Donny Hathaway singing "This Christmas" my bet is that not a single one of "my people" would even notice. Also, if you have never heard this song on the radio, it means that you have never listened to the black radio station in your city at Christmas time. Without the least bit of exaggeration, I can assure you that in Atlanta you can hear it every hour on the hour from Thanksgiving until December 25.

Rule: Familiarize yourself with Mr. Hathaway's version of this song. (You'll get extra cool points if you know the part where he says "shake-a-hand, shake-a-hand.")  OH!! Don't be tempted by the other renditions either--Donny Hathaway singing "This Christmas" is the holy grail of soul Christmas music--constantly imitated, but never, ever duplicated. Also -- this, too, might be a part of the impromptu concert in front-of-the-fireplace. (But the good news is that because it doesn't involve multi-part harmonies, you might be safe if you just nod your had and do a two-step.)

#4  -- A pound of butter. . .  .

. . .is in the pound cake. For real.

Oh, and there will be no less than seven hundred and thirty seven forms of dessert. Pound cake will definitely be one of them but also count on some sweet potato pie, pecan pie, and a red velvet cake. If you're lucky, someone will bring a caramel cake and some banana pudding. And you know you are celebrating with my people if you encounter a 7-Up cake or a Milky Way cake--which are prepared with 7-Up and Milky Way bars, respectively.

Rule:  Watching your weight? Step awaaaaay from the pound cake. Matter of fact, just don't come to the party because there is NOTHING you can eat.

#3  -- Chit-chat

Let's just get one thing clear: "chitterlings". . . is pronounced "chitlins" not chitter-lings. Got that?

Me-myself-personally?  I don't eat chitlins nor have I ever even put a single chitlin in my mouth. Why, you ask? Real talk--after watching my T'Renee (Auntie Renee) clean them once when I was a child, I was so traumatized that this was all I needed to assure that I'd never, ever try them. So. . . . you DO realize that chitlin's are pig intestines, right? So cleaning them involves. . . .*sorry, just threw up in my mouth a little bit* . . . .cleaning what's inside of intestines. (See above scary-photo. Sorry, smell not included.)

Now. Usually this is followed by some history lesson about how when our people were slaves we had to get creative with what we had. The chitlins were scrapped, so voila! They became a delicacy in the slave quarter.  And y'all know how I feel about history, especially black history, so I once got very, very, very close to tasting a teeny-tiny bite smothered with hot sauce after hearing such an explanation behind the fact that we were actually eating intestines. Just as the fork got near my lips, my PTSD of seeing that pig-poo rolling down the drain and into the sink made me dry heave.  Couldn't do it, man. Still can't.

Confession #1:  When I was pregnant with Isaiah, my mother-in-law cleaned and cooked chitlins in my house. I immediately threw up when I walked in from work and smelled them. Like immediately. Mother (my mom-in-law) felt so bad for me that no chitlin has been cleaned or prepared in my home since.

Confession #2:  During that last time while carrying Isaiah, I saw my husband actually eating some chitlins and am still wondering if that should have been grounds for divorce.

Rule:  Never, ever volunteer to clean chitlins and make every effort to not be there when it's taking place. Even if you're trying to get in good with the future in-laws. Don't do it. Especially if you happen to be pregnant.

#2  -- Know what this is:

photo courtesy of my pal Lesley M. who snapped a photo of this because she knew it would make me laugh!

Question:  What you know about some chow-chow?

"Pass me that chow-chow, baby."

"I'm sorry-- pass you the what?"

"The chow-chow for these collards and these chitlins."


"Pass me that hot sauce too while you at it."

Okay, okay. Maybe the chow-chow thing is an exaggeration, but my Mudear always had some handy whenever one of those eleven kids asked for it. We were at our Thanksgiving party at Grady a few weeks back and I loved it when I heard one of the nurses ask for some chow-chow! (Made me think of my Mudear.) Oh and the best part? They had some!

Rule:  Okay, look. The deeper into the south you go and the higher the median age of the attendants at the holiday dinner, the more likely you are to encounter a request for some chow-chow--a pickled relish that goes on top of some of everything. Mostly young folks? No chow chow necessary. Expecting the Grady elders? Uuuuuh, at least consider it.  Consider yourself officially in the know.

#1  -- Amazing grace.

image credit

Dining with my people? You might consider having a snack before somebody starts praying over the food. Especially during the holidays. Ha. Now, if you're lucky, you might have my dad who keeps it real simple with:

"Good bread
Good meat
Good God
Let's eat!"

But don't count on that.  By November and December, a lot has gone down in the lives of black folks so in addition to showing your appreciation for the vittles, there's a whole year's worth of shout outs that just might have to precede that. These may or may not start with individual words of wisdom. I'm not ageist, but I've noticed that the length of the prayer mostly depends upon the age of the food-blesser. Be particularly skeptical of those who have a tendency to randomly break out in singing old negro spirituals while waiting for the elevator.  Then again, depending upon where you are in the bible belt, some young folks can sneak you with some surprisingly long-winded sermons dinner blessings.

Essentially, just be ready for anything. (Oh and if you are asked to recite a scripture, the shortest one in the entire bible is "Jesus wept." - John 11:35.  *You're welcome.*)  

See anything can happen. . .it might not quite like this one, but this one is pretty doggone comical. . .

Rule:  Anything can happen at the holiday dinner table. Even during the blessing of the food.

Now!  You should be fully prepared to fit right into any holiday celebration with my people!

Okay, so what's up with you and your people? What do y'all do during the holiday season? Do you eat chow chow, too? What songs should I know before coming over there? And most important--should I bring my own can of cranberry sauce in my pocket book to put next to your. . .err. . . stuffing?

Weigh in. How do you and your peoples do it?

Now playing on my mental iPod (in addition to the standard soundtrack.) James Brown always helps us get on the good foot for Christmas!


  1. I'm with you on the not eating anything that has previously contained poop, but CANNED CRANBERRY SAUCE? My heart died a bit when I read that. I'd happily eat 7-Up cake at your table if I lived close enough to invite myself to your party, but I'd have to be the "blog lady" who brought the fancy stuff made with real cranberries.

    Mmmm....I can't wait until Christmas now.

  2. I'm ashamed to say that I had no idea what any of those were except for chow-chow! I love chow-chow.

  3. Being one of your people and even being 50% Alabama descended (1/4 kentucky, 1/4 Tennessee), still never had anyone put chow-chow on the table. Did taste chitlins once,but not at a family members holiday table. Always make my whole cranberry sauce, since a friend (also African American) showed me how in 1970. Always have collards and hot sauce and vinegar with peppers available. Lots of fattening desserts, yes. the Temptations and donnie H. will be in the carol rotation. Our blessings are a group affair, sung and short. Stuffing, yes. And yes to learning about how other people live.

  4. I am starting to understand that the south is the south and our culture is our culture, whether our skin is darker or lighter.
    We have Louisiana AND Crystal AND Tabasco AND pepper vinegar. For our greens. Collard and mustard.
    Okay, chittlin's were never a part of our holiday dinners and will never be if I have anything to say about it. I try not to eat anything which once encased poop.
    Cornbread dressing? Check.
    Baked in a pan AND in the bird which is when it is rightly called stuffing.
    We do not have pound cake at Thanksgiving but when I do make pound cake it does indeed have a pound of butter in it. Wait- when WAS the last time I made pound cake?
    As to the music- if I listened to Christmas music (which I try not to) yours would be my choice. Believe me. Well, that and Happy Christmas (War Is Over) by John and Yoko.
    And so forth.
    My mother-in-law used to make a sort of chow-chow which their family served over green beans. Don't ask me why. I have the recipe but every time I look at it, I cringe. POUNDS of cabbage. What?
    I do have a jar of chow-chow in my refrigerator.
    My mother-in-law was also famous for her Jello Cake. Made with, yes, Jello.
    This all goes to say- I think we would be most comfortable at each others Thanksgivings.
    Well, with the exception of the blessing which we usually do but totally forgot this year.
    We're going to hell.
    Love you, dear. This was wonderful.

  5. Solitary D. ~ ha ha ha about the canned cranberry sauce. Okay. Here is the confession. I personally prefer the canned kind. Ha ha ha. Shhhh. Don't tell anybody. And yes, the 7-Up cake is super yummy and cannot be made with Sprite!

    My NZ Lucy-- WHAAAAAT? What you know about some chow-chow in New Zealand!?!

    NOLA ~ Love that you love it!

    Kristin -- Aww dang! No chow-chow? Must be all younguns! :) I am encountering lots of people with the real cranberry sauce--this could be me and my uncultured self looking in the cabinets for the kind you slice. LOL. Love your short blessings and really? Y'all say stuffing even if it's not in the bird? But YES we agree that learning and appreciating how others live is WHAT'S UP!

    Sister Moon -- Was there ever any doubt that our celebrations would be more alike than different? I mean was there really? Yes, so much of it is Southern culture, it so is. And yes, I love that John and Yoko song to pieces, too. And naaaah, you're too sweet to go to hell. Oh! And before I forget--OF COURSE you had some chow-chow in your fridge. And my sister, Deanna, makes a MEAN lemon Jello cake, complete with . . .lemon Jello. Love you, too! You are wonderful!

  6. I loved your post. I'm with you on the canned cranberry sauce, I never did take to the real stuff.
    My Dad always said the same short grace, and no Holiday dinner was complete without his passing of the rolls ritual - anyone outside of arm's reach got their rolls tossed to them. I cooked kale for myself this Thanksgiving, which my husband and kids asked me to eat in another room. When I cook collards or mustard greens, they really complain, but I eat them proudly, with a splash of vinegar.
    I don't have a chitlins story, but I barfed in my mouth a little reading yours. I do, however, have a disgusting and resonant childhood trauma involving muskrat brains, and the sound of their little skulls in the nutcrackers. My mom's people love love love their muskrat, and they saved the brains for last. The smell of the kitchen kept me from eating anything all day. Hope I returned the favor for you :)
    As to music, at our house, nothing says holidays like anything by Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Feliz Navidad by Jose Feliciano.
    Thanks for the fun look at the Holidays this morning.

  7. omg, i HOOTED at the canned cranberry! we always put both on the table just so anyone who doesn't recognize one can resort to the other. i've always liked the canned version, though i have to say the first time i had cranberry sauce made from real cooked down cranberries, it was a revelation. but as i recall, that was the same year my cousin in law jangled his keys and went to the store to get the real thing, aka the canned stuff, for his then pregnant wife. so yeah, we do both kinds now.

  8. Mel!!! Muskrat brains?!? O.M.expletive.G!!! Now that is one I haven't heard about. You TOTALLY have to post about that!! Good LAWD!!! (I guess pig-poo intestines are equally disgusting, though!)

  9. Since I will be spending Christmas with my daughter-in-law's family, I truly appreciate the tutorial. I will review it daily until Christmas. I had not thought about the probability that there would be greens and chitlins served. I can't even think about the possibility of eating either. I'm sorry, this GRITS had wars of the wills with my father on whether I would ever eat greens. Where can I get a recipe for 7-Up cake? I'd like to take something to the celebration, and that seems to be appropriate. Again, thanks so much for the tutorial.

  10. The first time I had the dis-pleasure of smelling cooking chittlin's was during our first holiday with my husband's family. My brother-in-law had been away for a few years and had decided to pull out all the stops for Christmas dinner at my mother-in-law's house upon his return. I barely made it from the front door to the toilet bowl. I should have figured out immediately that I was pregnant and not wasted money on a pregnancy test the next day... just smell some chittlin's. ;-)

  11. Since you asked... As far as the other half of my children's people (i.e. my side) - every celebration is an exercise in culinary acrobatics and excess. There must be gourmet food and lots of it. In fact, if you cannot feed an extra 40 people that just showed up at your door unannounced, then you are definitely not my people. Even in my twenties I used to cook enough food for parties to give every attendee leftovers to feed them for 3-4 days (still trying to decide if our parties were popular and our circle of friends so large because they really liked us or because of the free food). Naturally, if you are not leaving with enough food to last you at least a couple of days then you are not leaving the house of one of my people. Also, if you decide to bring something to a celebration with my people, it better not come from a can, a jar, or a box - there will be disapproving looks and hushed whispers from every single woman above age 45. We will kill ourselves for days to make everything from scratch and we will make things in the most labor-intensive possible way. "What? Your bakhlava only has 20 layers? Hmph, I make mine with at least 40!!" *insert-smug-look-here* Why? I have no idea, but I'm not about to question my grandma... I might choke on the hairy eyeball.

  12. Oh, girl, I have loved chow-chow since I was little! Pound cake has a pound of butter!?! o.O

  13. Yo son. I don't even like cranberry sauce like that and I like doing foodie stuff but I just don't see the point in doing anything but opening a can. You forgot the can needs to have been refrigerated at some point. I had to go over some of these things with my white & Pakistani friends when they came to my mom's for Thanksgiving last year. Chitlins? The day some church ladies cleaned a bucket at my mom's when I was 12 forever sold me on the I don't need it everness of that foolishness!!! I wrote a hilarious post about it but I hate when people link to posts in the comments so I won't. But no ma'am. Chitlins and me. Never the twain shall meet. Also my mom's from MS, dad's from NC, husband's fam is from GA. Neither of us know what chow chow is. I've heard of it but I'm gonna have to divert w/you on that point. When my MIL opened the box of stuffing... I decided to make dressing every year henceforth. All the rest I agree with. Now please pass the pepper sauce (which my mom makes from jalapenos)!

  14. Oh, my god. This is an awesome post -- every single word. This will be the fourth year that I do a "Carol of the Day" on my blog from December 1st through the 25th (despite the protestations of the anti-Christmas folk!) and I have yet to post any of the songs you mentioned here which means I am so much a white girl -- well -- I almost need to apologize. I hope I can include them, though, in my line-up as I'm sore in need (doesn't that sound Biblical?) of new carols to post. As for radio stations in Atlanta -- is there still a V103? I listened to that all through my teenagerdom.

  15. And by the way, that cranberry in the can is my very favorite. It makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

  16. Well that explains why at my department potluck all my co-workers kept correcting me when I said "who made the 'dressing'" and they said "don't you mean 'stuffing'". LOL! Okay, I can't believe I am the only person here who LOVES chitlin's! I will agree with you that I too was traumatized as a youth on the stinky smell of either my grandmother or aunt cleaning and cooking chitlins. Then one day I yielded to temptation and feel in love. But I must have hot sauce and they need to be fresh out of the pot. And finally Christmas season has not officially started to me until I have heard the Temps rendition of Silent Night.

  17. WOW. I am with you on all of this.
    It's just not Thanksgiving without greens AND my mama's dressing.

    That whole Tempatations Christmas Album (yes I said Album) is the bizness & in constant rotation from the day after Thanksgiving until even after Christmas Day! LOL

    I promise you I had 5 pieces of Caramel Cake over a 3 day period & !

    There are only about 6-7 people who eat the Chitlins, but one of my Aunts makes crockpot full every.single year.

    Yes I know what Chow Chow is.

    My BIL is a Pastor & he keeps the prayer short & sweet.

    This was a great post & really makes me appreciate our culture all the more.


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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