The Thanksgiving feast was no sooner put away when I began to think about when I would begin Christmas baking. Not because I love those cookies so much but rather I love what my family says about them. They speak of my egg nog logs in dulcet tones, they praise my Mexican wedding cakes with effusive smiles. But, I don’t for a moment think it is because of my superior baking skills. I think it is because I have harnessed an important part of the holidays. Repetition.
Let me explain. We’ll return to the Thanksgiving meal. When my husband and I were dating and he came to my family’s home for Thanksgiving for the first time, he was looking forward to a home cooked turkey dinner. But not, he told me, to the stuffing. He did not like stuffing, he told me. As a matter of fact, he rather detested it. (Why I continued to date him after he confessed to this heresy I don’t recall.) He arrived at my parents home on time and suitably charming and as dinner began I watched to see how he would handle himself when the stuffing was passed his way. He must have decided that tasting was the better part of valor and he took a small helping. Which he ate, I noticed. And then he went above and beyond and asked for seconds. I whispered to him, “You, don’t have to.” “I want to.” “You don’t like dressing.” I said. “I like your mother’s dressing, a lot.” And that was that.
After we married I made the dressing for each holiday. And he asked most years “You’re making your mother’s dressing, right?” If I ever thought of switching to cornbread or adding sausage, I was quickly reminded of the superior nature of “your mother’s dressing.” And to this day the dressing (that’s what we call it now, stuffing no more) is much like my mother’s. A basic herb seasoned, bread concoction with celery and onion.
Families are a lot like dressing and holidays. The recipe for our days depends much on that which we can count on. The parts we play in the theatre that is our life story are based on birth order, hardwiring, and repetition . Maybe we call it tradition. Big brother is freakishly adept at assembling legos. He grows up and is still the one everyone asks for help in assembling all that needs putting together. Princess daughters know/remember who wants/needs the gifts and where the nutcracker looks best. And everyone wants the dressing to be just as it always was.
“Should I make the onion tarte?” I asked my husband. “You will if you don’t want writhing on the floor and gnashing of teeth,” he replied. It makes us feel connected to the holidays of our past. And yes even to those no longer with us. I think of my mother every time I make the dressing.
And yet, some traditions are ripe for change. Like most people my age, I was served (and in my case, did not eat) canned cranberry sauce. It was probably a function of the 1960 grocery store that cranberries sauced or gelled and in a can, were most common. And it is a sign of the 1990’s and the 21st century that homemade fresh is so common today. But I have one friend who still loves that scary canned concoction complete with ribs imprinted on the the gelled sauce, best. We serve it to him with a wink and a nod while everyone else enjoys the other. It is his tradition we respect.
So, here is my metaphor for the day. The food, the decorations, the music of the holidays are how we connect to our past, to our families, to our younger selves.
And here is my confession. Sometimes we need to tweak or refresh those recipes. I make my mother’s dressing. But, a few years ago I snuck in mushrooms, and a year or so later I added wild rice. It seemed to work. That’s the dressing at my house now.
Our children grow up and bring others to the table, just like I did all those years ago. We set another place and add a chair. The beauty of the holidays is that they are able to grow and morph while still retaining their original “flavor” if you will.
It’s a gift more beautiful than the crystal returned to the china cabinet, or any gift under a tree. We belong to each other because we remember the dressing and how we all fit together.
It’s a dish we can have second helpings from. I’m just say’n.