Apigian-Kessel: Christmas 2012

It’s not the big house on the hill. It’s the modest house on the last street in Bloomfield Township, with cedar roping around the front door. It is the red brick house with the mailbox at the curb covered with holiday greens and two big red bells that shout: We celebrate this Christian holiday with gusto. The boxwood hedge along the brick paver walk, too, is covered with miniature white lights.

Nightfall comes early this time of year, and the front door looks like a Christmas card with a spotlight showing all who pass the beautiful green wreath with a red velvet bow, its long strands flying in the wind. It is set against the darker red of the front door with an Armenian-style metal cross positioned in the middle. Even so, every spring the Seventh Day Adventists insist on paying us a visit with their literature.

It’s the house that also has a live wreath on the unpainted privacy fence door alongside the driveway that has faded into the perfect shade of gray I have waited for. I am old-fashioned about Christmas and have always wanted a faded red barn in the country to decorate. It is through this door that guests enter when we are entertaining, avoiding the steps leading to the front door. We are informal and casual.

When they push open the wooden gate they are greeted by a white wrought iron bench with matching tables on each side covered with fragrant fresh evergreen boughs centered with red cardinals. Two pots of flowering white kale are in full bloom on the pie rack with a grape vine wreath surrounded by fresh greens. The cherub statue sits atop the rack throughout the year.

Everything outside shows signs of Christmas, except the gas barbeque. I have spared its dignity since it may yet get pressed into service. Even the snow shovel has a red ribbon tied on it. The artificial tree with blue and white lights on the sun porch is the first indication company will be witnessing a house that is lit up to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

A green, silver, and red glass ornament wreath is on the wood roll-up shade on the kitchen window. The cabinet tops have a garland festooned with stars lit in different colors. Between them boldly stand nutcracker soldiers, and little green trees sparkle away. It takes some doing for this decorating but so far the man of the house safely teeters on a short ladder to satisfy his fussy wife, the perfectionist, still laid up with a sore ankle.

The dining room table is set with a red cloth and special Lenox cream-colored, holiday-themed dinner plates bearing cardinals and ringed with red ribbon. The stemware is 60-year-old burgundy crinkle goblets given to my parents on their 30th wedding anniversary. A red ice bucket sits at the ready. Gold tone flatware completes the setting. The ends of the tablecloth are tied into rosettes. The chairs are dressed with cream-colored covers and bows. It is pleasing to the eye.

Christmas has always been a big deal at our house, and even though the nest is empty our spirit glows with excitement as Thanksgiving arrives and heralds the day a local radio station begins playing Christmas carols all day long until the New Year. “Oh, Holy Night” rings out in exaltation.

The man of the house has been asked to bring down everything from the attic, and he does so, bearing eight large plastic containers full of Christmas decorations collected over the years. Each one is like a lifelong friend.

My 30-year collection of stuffed animals that Pier I sold only at holiday time includes camels big and small, elephants, polar bears, and a tiger. My “Frosty the Snowman” cookie jar is filled and placed on the kitchen table. A windup mechanical Noah’s Ark with moving parts was a rare find and a special reminder of my Armenian heritage. It plays “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” A manger scene is placed under the live Frazier Fir that fills the house with fragrance. An ages old musical windup doll and clown sit on top of my father’s desk.

Garlands with tiny lights are strewn over the wine cabinet, mantle, china closet, and the bathroom mirror. I have yet to go through all the containers to look for our red and white Santa hats. You just have to have everything that says “Christmas.” Green velvet pillows centered with a small tree sits at each end of the sofa. Now you have a picture of our Christmas house.

Is the tourshi and roejik ready yet? How about cheese, olives, and aboughd? Fill the bowls with pistachios, lablaboo, raisins, and nuts. Now we just have to wait for the knocks at the door to share the joy of the season with people who mean so much to us. It has been a lifelong success of collecting rewarding relationships.

All this is very nice and will remain until January 6th, Armenian Christmas, but it is the guests that arrive to share good food, drink, and conversation that fill our hearts and hearth with the Holiday Spirit that completes the effort. Nothing makes me happier than entertaining and filling the table with as much traditional Armenian food as possible.

I am nothing if not steeped in tradition foisted upon me by my upbringing, for which I am eternally grateful. My parents loved opening their home to guests.

For many of us it is a special time of year. For some it can be a sad time with the reminder of loved ones lost or families fractured by disagreements. Somehow life goes on. I comfort friends who miss their parents, crying as they proudly roll sarma according to their mother’s recipe, because for them tradition is important too.

Although we expect nothing, to our surprise gift boxes appear on our doorstep via UPS bearing luscious pears from Oregon, enough deluxe nut assortments to suffice much entertaining, a coveted fruit cake, and gift cards. We are on an abundant overload much to our thankful surprise.

What? Not a poinsettia in sight? I’ll take care of that today. “Bob, we have to go shopping!”

Come see Christmas at the Kessels for yourselves. Just give me a phone call and I will have the coffee ready. Admission to this party is free; just bring a happy disposition. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

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Betty Apigian-Kessel

Betty (Serpouhie) Apigian Kessel was born in Pontiac, Mich. Together with her husband, Robert Kessel, she was the proprietor of Woodward Market in Pontiac and has two sons, Bradley and Brant Kessel. She belonged to the St. Sarkis Ladies Guild for 12 years, serving as secretary for many of those years. During the aftermath of the earthquake in Armenia in 1988, the Detroit community selected her to be the English-language secretary and she happily dedicated her efforts to help the earthquake victims. She has a column in the Armenian Weekly entitled “Michigan High Beat.”

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