I love the holidays. All year I look forward to the celebrations, parties and meals, with Thanksgiving dinner being an obvious biggie. The fall and winter holidays are a time when tables overflow with turkeys, roasts, hams, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, a plethora of family-tradition-based recipes, and of course, pies—pumpkin and chocolate pecan are my favorites. Folks will break out their fine china, dust off their crystal and polish the silver to break bread and waistlines with family and friends.
An idyllic scene, right?
Sometimes the answer is “yes.” The holiday will be filled with delicious food, bright laughter, crackling logs in the fireplace and everyone getting along, whether they’re watching football, headed for a morning Turkey Trot, or playing a post-meal game of Apples to Apples. Not a cross word or rolled eye to be heard or seen for miles.
Now I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but sometimes that holiday picture will blur. The turkey will burn as mine did back in the mid-nineties. Or an ice storm will hit and knock out power for days not long before Christmas, which happened in our area in 2002. Or—oh, no!—the school called right as relatives are arriving at the airport and guess what? There’s a lice outbreak and your kid has it, too.
One long-ago holiday, I took that call.
Informed by the ghosts of holidays past, I’m writing from the vantage point of 20/20 hindsight and what I’ve learned is that even the most carefully thought out plans can be waylaid by life. In short, the cosmos has a way of ladling what I call “Crap Sauce” on top of any dish or holiday. Fate doesn’t care if it’s the third Thursday in November or the twenty-fifth of December.
Instead, shit happens. Even bumper stickers agree.
So with my magic backward glance, I now know that those kind-of-botched holidays were never about the recipes I spent hours researching and tweaking. The dishes I garnished to restaurant beauty weren’t so important. And when the turkey burned, it didn’t matter if that bird was organic and free range, cost its weight in gold, or that I stood in an hour-long line to pick it up two days before Thanksgiving.
Shit happens even when you paid through the nose in dollars and time for meals and gifts.
I’d like to report that I always rolled with it when these shoes dropped, but I didn’t. Tears were shed on more than one occasion, but I learned some valuable lessons, too.
Want to know what stands out most for me about those less-than-perfect holidays? I remember the people who gathered with me to celebrate. The family and friends who ate the unburnt portions of turkey and the brave families who came to that long-ago holiday meal despite a little lice infestation.
And all those backfires (I have more, but this is an essay and not a novel) have provided fodder for years of stories—my personal-meal-in-shambles oral history. I tell and retell each of these events time and again, and by the end I’m always laughing. The thing about time and hindsight is that it can transform some bumps into comic material.
Aside from the truly catastrophic such as illness and death, the rest can usually be dealt with. I’ve learned through these past holiday mishaps to adopt the mantra from Frozen. Let. It. Go.
I wish you and yours a sparkling holiday season. But remember if you find yourself with a serving of Crap Sauce, count the blessings you have, especially the faces of family and friends around you.
They are what matters.