It is post-Christmas week. One of my favorite weeks of the year. Thanksgiving feels to be so long ago. Christmas Day is in the near past. For many, the practice of giving is now moving into a new dimension. We tend to shift our sense of openness, generosity, awareness of others and their needs after the holidays. There are so many ways to give.
I have witnessed many selfless acts during this past holiday season. It has been a blessing to see how openly and sweetly and richly others have shared their love, goodwill, traditions, and time. I am thinking of the fabulous feasts that were so generously prepared by family during this recent holiday season. The measure of time and love and sense of tradition that went into these meals was truly amazing. I felt the love when I saw all of the cookbooks opened on the kitchen counter, the living room coffee table, and the couch. I could feel the meals from holidays past lilting from the open and stained and dog-eared pages. There were homemade cookies to be enjoyed. Chips and vegies to be dipped. Crackers to be cheesed. The variety of dishes served was astonishing, actually.
When my daughters were young, it was our tradition that they would create the holiday menu. It was fun and always a culinary adventure. The menu was generally quite limited to a few favorite foods that were general considered to be taboo by any nutritional standards. And the added bonus was that their menus demanded a blessedly brief amount of time and a decided lack of culinary talent on my part.
I think of the year that I served red Jell-O in the shape of teddy bears with freshly-whipped cream. Or the year that we ate nothing but potato chips and onion dip for the entreé and pumpkin pie for dessert. These were not incidents of pure laziness or nutritional abuse on my part. These meals built a foundation of culinary autonomy . . . it was a day of Anything Goes. Why not? We were not serving others who held expectations of basted turkey, cornmeal stuffing, and giblet gravy. We were Gastronomic Outlaws – bucking the current societal holiday conventions that demanded hours of shopping, food preparation, and marathon clean-up.
There was one year that I did cook a turkey. It was a rare year, as we had family visiting us and it would not do to forego the traditional meal. Whining from one of my more outspoken house guests would ensue, and we could not have that. Placating with a cooked bird was preferable to listening to his traditional ranting.
Alas, we don’t remember enjoying the golden-brown-basted turkey from that year because we lost our power and our running water for five days, starting on Christmas Day morning – about 1.5 hours into bird-cooking time. I remember looking at the turkey that was half-cooked in the electric-powered oven . . . wondering how I could possibly continue to cook an entire bird while balancing it on the top of the old barrel wood stove in the living room.
The solution? I went out to the woodshed and got a shovel and buried the turkey in the field. We had no refrigeration and no promise as to when the power would return to us. I didn’t want to invite any unwelcome poultry illness . . . or any opportunistic animals to come marauding in the night, had I tossed the uncooked bird onto the compost pile. As insane as this sounds, it felt like a righteous act to bury poor Tom Turkey, as my heart was not entirely in agreement with cooking an unfortunately-fated bird that year. A silent blessing was bestowed. R.I.P.
While we still had daylight, we went sledding instead on Hamburger Hill – the name of the sledding run behind the school . . . one that had been dangerously groomed by the school children during the previous weeks before Christmas break. It was a fun and memorable and active way to spend the day. We came home and made hot chocolate by balancing a tea kettle on the round arc of the barrel stove. We made peanut-butter-and-honey sandwiches by candle light and finished the meal off with Christmas cookies. Not even my best of turnaround traditional attempts was to come to fruition. Only minimal whining about the peanut butter was uttered by the Traditional Outspoken Relative. We had somehow managed to maintain our time-honored tradition of eating minimalistic nutrition for yet another holiday.
That is why the meals from this current year were exemplary. All of the stops were pulled. It was one wing-ding of a holiday meal. I do not recall ever seeing so much love poured into a meal that was to be served to loved ones. My daughters? They served up seconds and thirds on dishes that they had never tasted before. Green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, soft white-flour rolls . . . What had they been missing all of these years?
But who said that you always have to serve the perfect holiday meal that fulfills all of the nutritional requirements of the food pyramid? We have survived the sugar highs, the salt-induced edema, the Year of the Sauerkraut, the subsequent tummy aches, and, yes, the year of the peanut-butter sandwiches. And we have built a lot of memories along the way.
It is strange how even non-traditions present as gifts of love. It is a way to measure . . . a way of setting fence posts through time. There are so many ways to give. We give through sharing, through accepting, through laughing through the crazier moments that define where we are today. What we choose for today.
We have an amazing opportunity to give. To breathe life into a holiday in ways that are unexpected. Memories are forged and we laugh in spite of the years that felt to be a bit tougher. Life is good. There is much to be appreciated. And we anticipate the next holiday season with wonder and awe – never knowing what it may bring to us in the way of unexpected gifts.