In this Urban Fantasy Land exclusive, we’re bringing you the holiday traditions of some of your favourite urban fantasy authors! Today’s guest: J.F. Lewis, author of Staked.
What winter holiday do you celebrate?
We celebrate Christmas here at the Lewis household. It’s a very big deal. We have the only small children within our extended family, so it’s all about them. Usually, the grandparents show up really early Christmas morning and wait downstairs for the boys to wake up. We open presents and then have a big breakfast, where my wife shows off her culinary skills. (This year, we’re having homemade cinnamon rolls, from scratch, along with the usual sausage, bacon, biscuits, eggs, cheese grits, hashbrowns, and other fixings.) The kids get to play with their toys for a while before heading over to my mom and dad’s for turkey, dressing, and more dessert than you can shake a stick at. It’s kind of like Thanksgiving: Part II. After lunch we head back to the house and have more playtime. By then, our friends have begun to arrive to play with the kids and their toys. We always invite them to stay for Christmas dinner (which is often leftovers back at my parents’… we live within walking distance).
What are your favourite winter holiday traditions?
Fruitcaking. Yes, I know… run for the hills. It’s highly fashionable to hate fruitcake, but ours is very good. Fruitcaking is a tradition from my wife’s side of the family. Preparations start several weeks beforehand with a series of trips to various grocery stores to find all the ingredients required. We use Great Aunt Sadie’s ancient recipe (quadrupled) and turn out dozens of cakes. Everything is traditionally done by hand, the old-fashioned way. Eggs are beaten with hand-cranked egg beaters. Flour is sifted. Chocolate is melted in a double boiler (never in the microwave). It takes a passel of friends and family, some mixing the batter, others cutting up figs or slicing candied cherries, others cutting brown paper-bag liners for each pan.
Once the batter is ready we have to divide it into two huge bowls. We set one at each end of the dining room table and the whole family gathers around to throw in the candied fruits. Each layer of fruit gets a coating of sifted flour and is carefully folded into the batter (never stirred). The tradition has changed a little since we found out both of my boys have serious nut allergies… now we fill one set of pans (the ones for the immediate family) with fruitcake batter that has no nuts and then the boys, Janet, and I leave while a few strong armed folks stay behind to fold in the nuts.
Fruitcaking is my favorite holiday tradition because it’s the one thing that makes it really seem like the holidays to me. There’s a fire in the fireplace. Christmas music is playing… and if I’m lucky, I even get to play a little Trans-Siberian Orchestra before Grams insists that we go back to Manheim Steamroller. Everyone has an apron on. Even me. (For the record, mine is black and has the following quote from Dworkin in Roger Zelazney’s Amber series on it “’Twould be simpler to destroy everything and try a new start.”) The kids finish out the day playing with leftover flour and pretending that their toys are on Hoth.
What are you looking forward to most?
Nothing beats the look on my boys’ faces when they come bolting down the stairs on Christmas morning. Their smiles and excitement light up the room. It’s contagious, and in what can’t be more than a single nanosecond, every adult waiting downstairs has a grin to match. Last year, the boys rushed straight to the tree to pull out gifts, not for themselves, but for each other… gifts each had purchased at the “holiday shop” at their school and kept as a super-secret surprise for his brother. They were really cheap stuff- a dollar-store wallet and a cheap foam football- but because the boys had picked them out and paid for them, wrapped them and hidden them, those small gifts were suddenly the most important ones. It was a total Gift of the Magi moment.
What’s your favourite gift to give?
Books! This year I’m passing out some copies of Stan Nicholls’ Orcs Omnibus. I received a copy at the Orbit booth this year at SanDiego Comic-Con and loved it. But for the most insidious Christmas gift ever, we are spreading the curse of WebKinz to some of our extended family and friends. (Those of you who have seen me toting my LilKinz White Mouse around at conventions may cringe in terror now.) If *I* have to do it, then so do they. BWHAHAHA!
What’s your favourite gift to receive?
“An official Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time.” Ahem. Hand-made gifts are very cool and I always look forward to seeing what the boys have put together at school. Having said that, gift cards to places where I can buy BOOKS are always nice.
What’s your favourite holiday food/candy/treat?
Dressing! It can be almost any kind… chicken, turkey… one year my dad made some oyster dressing that was surprisingly good. We usually have oyster stew at least once during the holidays. I always enjoy that. I think it’s a holdover from growing up in Mobile where seafood was so fresh and plentiful.
Merry Kwachanadanistmas, everybody! And remember, vampires don’t eat big guys in red suits, so eat lots of good food and wear red, because, you know… Holiday Camouflage!