“I’m giving thanks that we don’t have to go through this for another year. Except we do, because those bastards went and put Christmas right in the middle, just to punish us.” –Home for the Holidays
Let’s be honest. The holidays, for the most part, suck.
It all starts with Thanksgiving – a day of gross overindulgence that requires days of planning, preparing, cooking and not a little money. Families that don’t normally see each other on a day-to-day basis are suddenly thrown into someone’s inevitably too-small house where the children are grumpy and insistent, the adults are working on getting drunk or bickering, and the pets are consistently in the way and under foot. The sink piles up with dishes. The men are shouting at the television. The women busy themselves with family gossip and eating cake. If you’re lucky, everyone gets out alive with their relationships still intact.
But maybe that’s just my experience. Maybe everyone else has a Leave It To Beaver holiday experience. But even in that family, the Beav was forced to deal with Wally, and I have strong suspicions that Mrs. Cleaver was a closet alcoholic.
Unfortunately, it’s not only Thanksgiving that we have to survive. If it were, well then, hell…that could be doable. One day? I can do that in my sleep. But no, we are not so lucky. Because, as Adele in Home for the Holidays so aptly puts it, “those bastards went and put Christmas right in the middle, just to punish us.” Punish us, indeed. Every year, I hear people complain about how commercial it’s all becoming, how the stores start playing that dreaded Christmas music too early, how stressed out they are. People have been complaining about the same things for years. Maybe even since the first Christmas. I mean, it had to be stressful for those three wise men to find just the right gifts, travel to an inevitably too-small house, and spend time with people they barely knew. And here we are, thousands of years later, suffering the same fate. Only we get the added annoyance of being forced to listen Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer five hundred times in three weeks.
Still…I woke up this morning with butterflies in my stomach. It’s the 22nd of December, just three days till Christmas. And even though the decorations have been up since Thanksgiving and the presents have been wrapped and under the tree for a week, it wasn’t until this morning that I began to feel a little excited about the holiday. Oddly enough, today is the day that I have a zillion things to do. Most of it cooking. And for reasons I can’t explain, it is the cooking itself that makes the season joyful. The decorating is fun and looks nice, the present buying and wrapping is fun too, but there’s something about cooking for my family that feels like true giving. It’s true that I could save myself some time by going to the grocery store and buying cakes surrounded by molded plastic and loaves of bread in plastic sleeves. But there is something grand about flour on the floor and the smell of things made from scratch in the oven.
In this age of made-up families, those consisting primarily of friends and partners who know us better than our actual families ever will, it is especially important to give something of ourselves. Not just presents carefully selected or time spent in front of the television rooting on a common favorite team, but something that says, “Hey. I have history with you. And even though I don’t really know you, really know you, you are important to me.” Maybe spaghetti sauce and meatballs made from scratch or bread rolled by my hands is not enough. The kids will still be grumpy and insistent, the adults will still be working on getting drunk and bickering, and the pets will still be underfoot. But, for me, the food I place on the table for my family speaks volumes. And I know that, for a few moments at least, their enjoyment of it will erase the stress and tension of the season.