Christmas Dressing

For supper, my mother made oyster dressing like she did every year. Some years it was oyster stew. And I’d always eaten this Christmas fare without asking what the oversized gray boogers were.

I found a box of Christmas decorations in my attic. It’s filled with old trinkets and ornaments from childhood.

There’s the ornament I made in pre-school—a petrified gingerbread man who’s missing half of his face.

An ornament from fifth grade—a miniature Bible, splayed open to the book of Hebrews. It reads: “It is appointed for man to die once, then comes judgement.” A little uplifting treasure from a fundamentalist childhood.

And there’s the clay figurine I made for my father. It is an uneven lump, supposed to be man, eating oysters. But it looks more like a cow eating a ball of gray-colored mud.

I remember when I brought it home in my bookbag. I remember how the sun was in the early afternoon.

I remember my father was seated at the head of the table, asking what I learned in class.

Mama interjected, “Show Daddy what you made in school today.”

I presented him this clay atrocity. He looked at it and said, “What is it?”

“What’s it look like?” I said.

“A Jersey cow eating a rock?”

“No,” I said. “It’s you, and you’re eating an oyster.”

“Why’re my nostrils so big?”

“Teacher told us to explore symbolism.”

“That means I’m a Holstein?”

“It means that we can make our parents look like whatever we want.”

“So you made me a cow?”

“No, I made you a cow-BOY, see the little hat?”

“I look like a hot-air balloon with a face.”

He hung it on the tree and tapped it with his finger to make it sway. “That’s a big oyster I’m eating,” he remarked.

Oysters are a tradition in my family.

That following Christmas, we awoke early. He wore the robe my mother made for him—he did not wear a robe any other day of the calendar year. Among my gifts were a few records, slacks, some books—and I know this is weird—oysters.

Daddy sat beside a fireplace and listened to Nat King Cole while sipping cider and eating oysters on crackers.

“Why do we get oysters every Christmas?” I asked him.

He shrugged. “Just ‘cause.”

“‘Cause why?”

“Just ‘cause.”

“You don’t know why we do it?”

He had to think about this. “Guess it’s ‘cause my parents did it, and your mother’s parents did it. Sometimes we do things our ancestors did just because.”

“Your ancestors ate oysters on Christmas?”

“No,” he said. “OUR ancestors at oysters for Christmas.”

He handed me some gray snot on a Saltine cracker with hot sauce. It looked like a wad of prehistoric phlegm.

“Try it,” he said. “It’s good.”

I ate it. I fell in love. I would become a lifelong oyster enthusiast.

For supper, my mother made oyster dressing like she did every year. Some years it was oyster stew. Before, I’d always eaten her Christmas fare without asking what the oversized gray boogers were. I guess it had never occurred to me that there were little bivalves in my food.

That year, I poked at my plate and asked, “Are these actual oysters?”

She nodded. “Of course, what else would they be?”

“But why at Christmas?”

“Because, it’s just what we do.”

What she really meant to say way that her mother had made oyster dressing at Christmas. Her grandmother made oyster dressing at Christmas. And hundreds of years ago, our Catholic-European ancestors probably jumped into the freezing bay water and slurped oysters in the nude, then promptly died of hepatitis A.

And I don’t know why I’m telling you so much about oysters.

Anyway, tonight we decorated our tree. It’s a small tree. I placed a lumpy ornament on the bow that resembled a Jersey cow. And I listened to Nat King Cole.

I sipped cider, thinking about a man who left this world by his own choosing. He wasn’t a villain, but a man who made a bad decision. I wish I could see him again. I wish I could spend a holiday with him.

But you can’t change the past. You can’t bring people back from the dead, no matter how many words you write.

You can only do things your ancestors did.

So that’s what I’ll do. I will wake early. I will wear a robe. I will eat oysters on Saltine crackers with hot sauce. My wife will make oyster dressing, or stew. And I will remember someone very dear to me. I will do this for the very same reason he did it.

Just because.


  1. Susan Self - December 4, 2018 7:37 am

    Just because is good enough. Just because life and love made it so. Thank you just because.

  2. Pamela McEachern - December 4, 2018 8:56 am

    Just because has always worked for me and it’s all you need…when that’s what you need.

    Peace and Love from Birmingham

  3. Toni Tucker Locke - December 4, 2018 10:16 am

    This is our first Christmas without our grandson who chose to end his life in August. I will learn and practice a Hawaiian tradition because that is where he was born and where he was happiest . . . . I am sorry that your dad left your family. Families really need dads. My grandson missed his.

    • Janet Mary Lee - December 4, 2018 3:48 pm

      Toni, so sorry for your loss. I know how precious he is to you.

  4. Jean - December 4, 2018 11:14 am

    Christmas is about tradition and memories. You have perfectly described oysters as I see them. You, sir may keep all of them for yourself!

  5. Terri C Boykin - December 4, 2018 11:17 am

    God bless you Sean. Love you much.

  6. Sherry - December 4, 2018 11:17 am

    Having married into a family that eats oyster dressing during the holidays…I learned how to make it 47 years ago…just because! Thank you and I hope your Christmas is blessed and joyful.

  7. Karen - December 4, 2018 1:14 pm

    “He wasn’t a villain, but a man who made a bad decision.” You have no idea how this helps. Thank you.

  8. Ellen Walters - December 4, 2018 1:24 pm

    We always had oyster dressing for Christmas and Thanksgiving. At 73 I still miss it. When I moved to the city I was surprised that none of my friends had heard of it. Thanks for the reminder Sean!!!!!

  9. Susan Hatfield - December 4, 2018 1:47 pm

    Because – they are a delicacy and were hard to get and expensive and you could only eat them when the ocean gets cold enough so they don’t make you sick! That’s what my Georgia mom told me anyway! My Daddy wouldn’t eat a raw oyster if you threatened him with hellfire but he ate my Mothers oyster stew on Christmas Eve every year with those funny little round crackers. Oyster crackers they called them.

  10. Tana Newman Branch - December 4, 2018 1:50 pm

    Sean, I was 10 when my daddy died of lymphoma. In 1953 there was no cure , only experimental stuff at Emory which didn’t work. Because I was so young, I have very few memories of him but…… one stands out to this day. He was very ill his last Christmas and his friends wanted to do something special for him. They knew how much he loved oysters so those lovely men drove to Gulf Shores from Valley, Ala., bought a burlap bag full of oysters, then brought them back to him along with hot sauce, saltines and beer. They sat around the kitchen table shucking oysters, telling war stories, laughing and slapping their knees until daylight. I still have the robe he was wearing 65 years ago. Oysters will always look like horse buggers to me but I love watching other people eat them. I think it makes them happy.

    Even when leaving this earth is not their choice, it leaves an unfilled hole in a child. I envy your memories. Keep writing!

  11. 4Dees - December 4, 2018 2:10 pm

    Christmas is when I miss the most family members who have gone on to heaven, but I also know that we will all be reunited again one wonderful day!! We love oysters, too!!

  12. Lydia - December 4, 2018 2:40 pm

    Love just sometimes breaks your heart!

  13. Debbie - December 4, 2018 2:43 pm

    Thank you again, Sean. It’s almost Christmas time and I miss my Daddy so much it hurts. He passed away five years ago. He was my rock after my young husband passed away at the age of 42, leaving me with unfinished memories to be made and a 17 year old son. This Christmas, I’m helping my Mama, who has just had cancer surgery. This may be her last Christmas, but who knows, it may be mine. Missing someone is hard, especially at holidays. Thanks so much for sharing your Christmas traditions and the oysters. I always slipped the oysters from the oyster stew over to my Daddy without being caught, but loved the rich milk stew that they were cooked in. Just couldn’t try that oyster. My first question on seeing one was, “is everything it’s got in there?” I guess I meant it’s innards, etc. Nope, couldn’t eat it lol.
    Merry Christmas, you can have my oysters. Love from South Georgia!

  14. Debbie Phillips Hughett - December 4, 2018 3:11 pm

    Love “just because” traditions. They are the common thread in family.

  15. Judy Broussard - December 4, 2018 3:38 pm

    Wishing you and your wife a very Merry Christmas with lots of oysters

  16. Janet Mary Lee - December 4, 2018 3:53 pm

    Beautiful post. I always love reading your works, and I also love reading the comments of those who read also. They are such good people. And you bring us together. I always read you, just because…

  17. Edna B. - December 4, 2018 4:33 pm

    Tradition are part of who we are. But you can keep all the oysters. I think after my family leaves on Christmas Eve, I’ll treat myself to a glass of Sam Adams Light and watch TV with my little Pogo curled up on my lap. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

  18. Erin Pepus - December 4, 2018 5:36 pm

    I especially loved your story on oysters … I, too, come from a family of oyster eaters ! Oyster Stew for Christmas breakfast. My Mama and Daddy have been dead over 20 years and oyster stew just doesn’t taste quite the same without them.

  19. Gerry - December 4, 2018 5:45 pm

    So glad I found out about you! I don’t know why you were telling us so much about oysters either, but glad to know about the hepatitis A. Another good reason not to eat raw oysters.

  20. Shelton Armour - December 4, 2018 9:06 pm

    Happy, good Christmas memories. I still miss my dad, too.

  21. Hixon Taite - December 4, 2018 11:27 pm

    Daddy would always fix oyster stew for just me and him on a cold winters night. I’ve tried many times to make his stew myself. It never tasted the same. I know when I pass to the other side he’ll be stirring the stew and say, “What took you so long son? I’ve been waiting for you.”

  22. Estelle Davis - December 5, 2018 9:42 pm

    I husband eats smoked oysters for breakfast every Christmas morning. Its the one gift he gets under the tree. I used to always make oyster dressing. But since our family has gotten smaller there are only three of us who like it. I had a wreck on October 23 I wasn’t able to make it for Thanksgiving. So if I’m able we are going to have Oyster dressing at Christmas. ?I wonder why it is that most of the young people now a days don’t like any kind of dressings?
    Have a wonderful oyster Christmas. Enjoyed all your family and God’s blessings cover you all.

  23. Robert Chiles - December 7, 2018 2:26 am

    We always called it “Oyster Pie” and it is still my favorite item on the Easter/Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s table. I never met an oyster I didn’t like. When my daughter was little, about once a month she would find me and say, “Papa, it’s time.” and we would share a tin of smoked oysters. On Ritz crackers with Duke’s mayonnaise and a glass of cold milk. (Nowadays with a beer). Thinking about oyster stew brings memories of my mother back after 20 years.

  24. Rose Preston - December 14, 2018 4:06 pm

    My dad loved oyster stew. He would used canned ones and heat them with milk and butter. I would always eat anything my dad ate. I even ate pickled pigs feet just because he did. Your article made me think of my dad. I remembered something else we did together. It was one of those little boxed kits which is paint by number. We would sit on the sofa and use the coffee table to spread our brushes and little containers of paint. Oh, how I cherished those paintings for many years. Thanks for this aricle. Just because!

  25. JOYA TAYLOR - December 18, 2018 8:17 pm

    Sean… this is just plain lovely. Thank you so much.

  26. Mary - August 8, 2020 8:10 am

    I know this is an old post but it brought back memories. I’ve been without my family for 24 years. They had all died by my 32nd birthday. I miss them like it happened yesterday. Our Christmas always included nuts, citrus fruit, chocolate drops and other candies. My daddy always bought them for us because it was what he knew as a child. He grew up in the depression. For him and mama this was a goldmine on Christmas day. I never understood it until I grew older. We had chicken dressing made from scratch but during the summer my daddy and brother would drag a croker sack of oysters into our kitchen and sit at the table eating them raw. Smell made me so sick I would leave the house until they were done. It was their thing.

    Christmas has never been the same since they died. I try. I put up a tree but my heart isn’t in it anymore. When you’ve spent so many Christmas days alone it loses its magic.

    Thank you for sharing this with us.


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