There’s something special about holidays, isn’t there? I mean, beyond whatever the actual holiday is supposed to be about. We spend so much of the year running around like crazy, one day running into the next and the next and the… It’s the holidays and special occasions that we end up remembering the most, I think. The lovely Missus was decorating the tree this year and there was a story to go along with each ornament that she pulled out of the box. Funny how a Christmas tree can end up being a display for part of your family history.
Here’s a story about my favorite Christmas memory. It’s a little thing called, Bite the Ham. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. After living in the dorms for two or three years at UB, most of my friends decided to live off campus. It was slightly less expensive but it was really more about the extra freedom you have without an RA and all of the rules there are in the dorms. In other words, it was much easier to have giant, blowout, parties in your off campus house than it was in the dorms.
I was living with Beth and Becky on Heath Street and we lived next door to some of our friends, who had decided to have a Christmas party. The week of the party, I received a gift basket of food from my sister. It was filled with all sorts of goodies and one or two things which I was not ever going to put in my mouth. Or so I thought. One of the funky items was a canned ham. A canned hunk of pink, gelatinous “meat”. Now, I love ham just as much as the next Jewish guy but, Sahlens, this was not. So, in the spirit of the season, I brought it to the party, really just as a joke more than anything. Who the hell would eat this thing?
Now would probably be a good time to say a few quick words about my college friends. Kids, if you’re reading this, skip to the next blog entry. Mom, you too. You know all of those crazy movies about college life? Animal House, Back to School, American Pie, etc? The characters in those movies had nothing on us when it came to drinking and having wild parties. I mean we left it all out on the field. We gave it 110%! 99% of those stories will never be repeated in this space.
So, having said that, it didn’t take much time before everyone was most definitely in the “holiday spirit”. Someone(Hardy), thought it would be a good idea to open up the canned ham and put it out with the food(probably just a bag of chips). Someone grabbed the mustard and attempted to write “Merry Xmas” on the canned ham. That someone was apparently too drunk to write in mustard and it ended up saying “Merry Xmar”. Fast forward another hour or so and hey, that ham is starting to look pretty good. Take a bite. I dare you. Some daring, drunk fool(Hardy), took a bite out of the ham and passed it to the next person. And then the next. And the next. A house full of people started chanting, “bite the ham, bite the ham! It fell on the floor. The dirty, college house, floor. Pick it up, take a bite, pass it along.
It’s my favorite Christmas memory. Not just for that day but for what it became, a tradition. For probably the next ten to fifteen years after that, we would have an annual Christmas party with whoever was still in town and, at the right time of the night, bite the ham! We brought new people into the fold each year. People we worked with. Neighbors. It didn’t matter. The tradition survived into our early thirties, by which point we had little kids and no one stayed out that late and got crazy anymore. Thirty plus years later though, we all still wish each other a “Marry Xmar” every year. We have a Facebook group page where someone posted a few photos a couple years back of a latter day party.
I suppose we should all be glad that we weren’t young at a time when people were taking pictures every minute of the day and posting them all over social media. There goes our political careers! Still, it would be fun to see a photographic record of those days.
Addendum: There are a couple of important items that I left out of this story. Old age is creeping in! The night of the original party, two of our friends showed up with a bottle of Baileys and announced that they were engaged. This was a huge surprise to all of us and it certainly added to the festive atmosphere. At some point in the evening, some of the Baileys spilled on a table and, being the poor college kids we were, it was not going to go to waste. Someone slurped the Baileys up off of the table and then we all started doing “table shots”. That particular tradition did not last quite as long as the ham biting did.
Also, it should be noted that the “Bite the Ham” tradition was observed one time in a non-holiday setting, at another couple’s wedding. We scared the regular wedding guests with a rousing rendition of “King of the Road” and then passed the ham around. Great times!
I’ve said this many times before but I’m very happy to repeat myself. I consider myself to be extremely fortunate to have met the group of friends that I did in college. They have remained my lifelong friends and for that, I will be forever grateful.