Family togetherness: key ingredient to any holiday
I’ve never been accomplished at pulling off an effortless holiday season. Every year someone makes Christmas cookies and offers me some before I’ve even taken down my Halloween decorations.
I feel defeated by the very expectation that I will shop, bake, and put quaint candles in the windows that I must remember to turn on every night.
I’m typically a last minute shopper, that most maligned and ridiculed of holiday creatures who haunts the picked-over aisles of department stores the week before Christmas. And, when I finally drag myself home with bags of gifts, I am undone by the need to wrap them all. The tape and scissors repeatedly disappear beneath the wrapping paper like a pair of fugitives I need to hunt down one-handed, while the other hand holds together a crooked fold or choppy seam.
I’m old enough to know this holiday haplessness is no passing phase. It’s permanent like a scar on my character that I’ve been bemoaning for decades but incapable of curing. I will never bake batches of cookies without forgetting to buy enough sugar. I do not possess the fortitude to begin shopping for creative, thoughtful gifts in the unrushed atmosphere of October.
My seasonal incompetence begins with Thanksgiving. My family typically assigns me only one or two food items to contribute: a cranberry relish which requires no cooking, and cheese cake. Last year I bought four packages of cream cheese for the cheese cake but never got around to making it. Those packages haunted my refrigerator for months, silver rectangles of guilt stacked beside the butter.
And the cranberry relish? It has four ingredients, arguably the most crucial being a cup of sugar to balance out the tart taste of the cranberries. Yeah, I forgot to add that. We stirred it in later, but it was still somewhat harsh on the taste buds.
But this year, something odd happened. My daughters, both in their 20s, gently eased Thanksgiving right out of my grasp. I can’t say I was unhappy, but it had its complications.
Their Thanksgiving coup began with a series of phone calls in September that I at first shrugged off. My oldest daughter insisted that she and her sister had made a plan that spared us our usual fourhour trip to New York to spend Thanksgiving with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
This plan involved my younger daughter, Juliet, and her boyfriend preparing virtually all the food except dessert. They are accomplished amateur chefs who often fix gourmet-style meals for us when they visit, so I didn’t object to that.
What’s more, with my son in college, my sonin-law working a holiday night shift, and Juliet living three hours away in Maryland, it seemed like a trip to New York wasn’t in the cards anyway this year. Our goal was to have the entire extended family at my house for Thanksgiving.
Let me fill you in on a bit of family history here: while I have had several Thanksgiving’s at my house, due to a variety of factors it’s been a while since I’ve attempted to lure everyone here. The primary reason is that my parents’ house in New York is simply more centrally located for the extended family.
It quickly became apparent that few of my siblings and their children would be able to make the trip to my house this year. But, my daughters continued plotting.
And thus it came to be that Juliet and her boyfriend spent hours pondering recipes, shopping for ingredients and planning an amazing dinner that I didn’t have to cook for. “Don’t bother making your cranberry relish, I have a new recipe I want to try,” Juliet informed me, kindly failing to mention my forgotten sugar escapade.
But on the other side were my parents, sister and brother who, in their own series of phone calls, set a tone of such sorrowful regret that I could not escape from the guilt at having evaded their Thanksgiving. And thus I did cook up one thing this Thanksgiving: that is a plan to include everyone.
So I spent Thanksgiving with my immediate family and then, on Friday morning, my husband, son and I got in the car and drove to New York to see the rest of the family.
This proves that although I am, as a rule, inept at holiday planning, I always remember the key ingredient to any holiday: family togetherness.
Now, if I can only keep track of the tape and scissors, I think I’ll be OK for Christmas.