By RACHAEL CUSICK
Every family has its traditions. For some, we count down the days until we get to partake in them. For others, we count down the days until we have to partake in them (lookin’ at you, cliché Christmas cardigans). But then there are the inexplicable ones: The ones that make us wonder what superhuman rubber cement made them stick to our family’s rituals. When it comes to my father, all things Christmas happen to fall into the latter category. In middle school, he promoted sudden illnesses that fortuitously kept me home from school each year to decorate our tree. In high school, he mistook Christmas for Easter and hid my siblings’ presents throughout the house. And in college, he asks for my opinion of my “sisters’ presents” only to have me open them on Christmas morning. But all these questionable holiday quirks seem normal when compared to my admittedly favorite holiday tradition: Ski Pole Lasagna.
Let me preface this by saying our family has not one drip of Italian heritage in our bones. Therefore, it’s safe to assume that walking into a New York City Italian supermarket on Christmas Eve is the most entertainingly dangerous outing I get to have all year. Young women elbow their way to the butcher counter while old ladies fire threatening glares at their husbands as soon as anyone approaches the mozzarella they’ve been eyeballing. My father and I divide and conquer – him battling the butcher mafia, me deftly swiping that grandma’s cheese. We scurry out of the store, sausage and ricotta in tow, ready to begin our annual holiday entrée undertaking.
My dad begins the “gravy,” throwing in words and seasonings to disillusion his suburban, canned-corn upbringing. The marinara sauce cooks overnight in a red-lacquered stewpot that can only be described as a glorified bathtub. Before I can wipe off the past year’s film of basement dust and chipped paint, my father dangles fresh lasagna noodles by his college set of ski poles crisscrossed above the kitchen sink. Three types of cheese, fresh herbs and a cutting board of sausage are temptingly filed along the counter. Finally, the time has come: He calls in his troops to assemble the lasagnas. (To this day, I believe the only reason my father had seven children was to sustain a never-ending supply chain of noodle-stacking minions.) My siblings and I line up, fighting over handfuls of cheese and whose layers have the best meat-to-sauce ratio. The army of casserole dishes files into the oven to bubble away.
When dinner finally rolls around, my family convenes at the table in front of our Christmas tree, settling in for the meal my quasi-Italian father prepared. We forget the mozzarella meltdowns that passed and the rust-tainted entrée to come. And for a moment, Christmas lives up to the perfect, nostalgic-laden expectations we are all guilty of holding.