Blue Christmas

Last week we had a holiday potluck lunch at work.  People brought the usual assortment of fatty, salty and sweet treats, and the department sat around and ate together.  Some of the folks really don’t know each other all that well, and others really don’t like some of the 800px-Christmas_tree_bauble[1]others.  To get the conversation started, a well-meaning person said, “Let’s go around the table and tell what we’re doing for the holidays.”

This is a gambit loaded with pitfalls, and sure enough, they happened.  Not everybody has the perfect family, or a family, and many people don’t have anywhere to go.  One divorced woman was waiting on her infuriating sister to decide if she was hosting Christmas or not.  A single gay guy said he plans to sleep through it, since he will be singing in choirs or as a soloist (his side job) through Christmas Eve.  Our head of technology (a woman) sat at the table with tears sliding down her face.  She’s married, but they have always spent Christmas with her sister, who died a few months ago.

Christmas is a time of joy for many, of irritation for others, and of sadness for others still.  My father was always melancholy at Christmas because his mother died in December.  Mother would hiss at him, “George, cheer up, for the children!”

Perhaps the bluest Christmas I’ve ever had was the year after Daddy died.  Mother and I went through the motions, even traipsing out into the fields to cut down a cedar tree and dragging it back to the house to decorate.  It was too tall, and Uncle Floyd had to come over and cut the trunk shorter so we could get it in the living room.  We spent many a sad Christmas Day alone together after he died because Mother would not “intrude on someone else’s Christmas,” even though we were invited for dinner many times.

I learned my lesson from that.  If someone cares enough about me to invite me on a holiday, I’ll go.  If I can invite someone else who doesn’t want to be alone, I will.  And I admire the guy at work who just wants to sleep–sometimes you’ve had enough celebrating!  I’d like to thank the friends who give me a reason to celebrate Easter and Thanksgiving, and to thank my sister who makes Christmas happen each year.  And I’m grateful for the friends who help me celebrate throughout the year.

So, a happy Christmas to all, and let’s be sensitive to those who don’t have a picture-perfect holiday.  You may be showing kindness to an “angel, unawares.”

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Holiday Cooking Disasters, or Almost

I’m always nervous when it’s time to cook a big holiday meal, or even to contribute toward a group effort at one.  I spent many years not cooking for big events, and I still happily go to my sister’s house or a friend’s house for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter or any other big foodie holiday.

I have finally learned to cook that turkey and bake that ham.  But I’m scarred by previous experiences.  The first time I roasted a turkey, for a Christmas party some years ago, I used a cooking bag (highly recommended).  I did not stuff it, because my family believes in dressing, baked outside the turkey, instead of stuffing, baked inside the turkey, so that’s what I do.  The turkey came out beautifully golden brown, with a moist breast and nicely done drumsticks.  Then I went to carve it, and found the plastic bag in the cavity with the giblets and neck in it.  Woops!  I didn’t say a word, just carved away.

Hams are capable of error as well, even pre-cooked ones that you just have to warm in the oven for a few hours.  I discovered that when I baked a ham–years ago, I swear–for the residents’ dinner at my local YMCA.  I had peeled off the layer of thin cellophane or plastic the meat packer encases the ham with before I put it in the oven.  How was I to know there was a second coat, a red one to match the skin?  Fortunately I figured this out when the ham began to get warm and emit an unusual odor.

Then there was the year I dropped a giant pot of sweet potatoes (already sweetened and spiced, of course) in the sink.  That one broke my heart.  All that work down the drain!  And I burned my hand, which is what made me drop it in the first place.

Fortunately, making mistakes is a great, if painful, way to learn.  I can bake a lovely ham now, or roast a fine turkey.  Holidays are safe at my house, I promise.  And thank goodness someone else is cooking this year!