Traditions that don't break the bank

Chris Sivula

I'm spending the week before Christmas in Cambridge, Mass., at a conference on energy and climate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It's a great opportunity to learn about these important topics from some of the world's top experts, but it's also leaving me without much time to think about this year's Christmas message.

As a result, I've dusted off a Christmas message from several years past. For those of you who saw it the first time around, I hope it's worth reading again:

I feel sorry for my sister-in-law, Rhonda Summerland. She believes every generation ought to contribute something to the collection of family Christmas traditions.

It's a nice idea, but easier said than done. As she's discovered, the process of adopting a tradition isn't defined anywhere. If there are any rules, no one has written them down.

You can say, "Hey, let's make this our tradition." But that doesn't work. She's tried it.

One year, her suggested addition involved breaking a pink peppermint pig with a tiny hammer, then making a wish on one of the candy shards.

I'm not sure why it didn't take. Maybe we lost the little hammer before the next Christmas came around. Maybe finding a pink peppermint pig isn't as easy as it sounds.

She's also tried inserting a new food into the assortment of rum balls and fudge that are served ever year, something that would be her unique contribution to the annual gluttony.

Once she served ostrich for Christmas dinner. It tasted a lot like tenderloin, only leaner. I'd eat it again, but one of the uncles wouldn't even eat it the first time.

But the real problem is this -- as tough as inventing a tradition can be, it's even harder to stop one from spontaneously appearing.

Somehow, Christmas dinner is now followed by a screening of the video What About Bob? where Bill Murray plays a hopeless neurotic who stalks his therapist during a summer vacation.

It's hilarious, but it drives my sister-in-law nuts that our generation's lone contribution to the season is to watch the same movie over and over again. But at least it's a tradition.

This year, as we gather around the television, I'll reflect on how you really need to be careful what you wish for when you break the Christmas pig.

And, I'll be thinking about how good some nice ostrich bits would taste right about then.

Ostrich Bits

-- 1 pound ostrich steak, cut into 3/4-inch cubes

-- 1/4 cup lemon juice

-- fajita spices

Place all ingredients in a bowl. Toss together and chill for at least two hours or overnight. Arrange marinated meat on a heat-safe dish so cubes are not touching one another. Broil for 4 minutes. Serve with toothpicks.

-- From the American Ostrich Association