As lovely as traditional holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas can be, they often also feel like "crunch times," with the flurry of shopping and gifting and baking and more baking. This strange year has already given me a new perspective on how important it is to keep alive the spirit--gratitude, giving, sharing--of these holidays, even when things look so drastically different for so many families.
In my 10/25 blog post, I reflected on the joy of inviting the Thanksgiving spirit, on a smaller scale, into an otherwise ordinary day. I have continued to actively think of ways to honor both traditions and pragmatism, and have found great pleasure in taking one special "holiday" food tradition at a time and sharing it with those close to me.
These thoughts remind me of Carl's often-shared belief that there's often no reason to hold on to "great" bottles of wine (unless they are some of the few which could benefit from further flavor development through bottle aging), waiting for some "special occasion" to occur. He says: Just go ahead and pop that cork and--magic!--the special occasion is now happening.
You know what can wear a person out? Baking five kinds of Christmas cookies all in one day. By the end of a long session attempting to re-create every single flavor of all our childhoods, my enthusiasm for the project has usually waned. The huge influx of cookies can also be a bit overwhelming, with all of the flavors and choices.
This year, just because, I baked one batch of shortbread cookies in November. They weren't holiday cookies--just little autumn leaves, with some raspberry jam sandwiched in between. Doing just one batch, unexpectedly, and then sharing them with Allegro folks, was really fun. Why not commemorate the season, maybe every season, with a little something extra sweet, extra special? The activity actually boosted my energy.
One holiday tradition which I've had ever since I was a kid is the eating of lox and bagels for Christmas breakfast, a vestige of time my parents had spent in New York. It wouldn't be Christmas morning, I've thought, unless the bagels were toasting and the cream cheese spreading.
Turns out, however, that It's not sacredly held that Christmas morning should be the only time that we enjoy this delicious pairing. I get this now. So--sprinkled into our rotation of "regular" dinner meals, and following an example shared with me by my friend Tracie--now sometimes, at times suddenly "special," it's Bagel Nite! We toast the freshest bagels we can find (though still nowhere close to my favorites, from the Bagel Chateau in Maplewood, NJ, on the morning after Thanksgiving, back in the Age of Travel). We get out pickled red onions and capers, slice good cheese very thin, and set the beautiful smoked salmon on top of our creations. So. Good. Carbs, Christmas, comfort. Bagel Night.
I had another successful tradition transplant for the family recently: Fondue Nite! In "normal" years, we get together with our friends the Welshes for New Year's Eve. We write predictions, get caught up, and then melt chocolate and dip everything we can find into it. Usually, for us, fondue is a once-a-year kind of thing. Well, not this year. I made a cheese-and-pilsner fondue for our bread, potatoes, and veggies, and then tried out a new chocolate fondue recipe, with all the potential dessert dippers I could find. There we were, huddled around the bowl of chocolate, and it wasn't even New Year's Eve! But still, it felt like a celebration. Maybe time for a new resolution.
In the olden days, a huge everybody-in holiday meal would involve huge amounts of preparation, dish after dish all to be shared all at once. Sometimes it's hard to appreciate the wonder of each part--the cranberries, the stuffing, the pie--because the parts are all piling on top of each other, and we can often feel exhausted. What I'm trying to do more consciously this season is to mindfully share the very best parts of holiday traditions, even if sometimes it's only one dish at a time.
Making the everyday special definitely helps us make it through.