Ah, as ye stop and reflect Christmas dinners of seasons past, you dream about your mother’s prime rib, Yorkshire pudding and oyster dressing. Your mother in law’s roast turkey and wild rice, mushroom and sausage stuffing.
Yet, none of these gustatory memories can hold a candle to Christmas dinner, circa 1996. We’d spent the holiday weekend with in-laws in Kentucky. We had carolers stop by, visited Santa at Keeneland Horse track, ate lamb and had a merry olde time. After being deposited at the airport, we–well, there wasn’t security back then–so we simply checked in and wandered to one of three gates. Then we made our way over to the only dining option. We scraped back some pleather chairs and plopped down. Nearby on a counter, there was a soda machine, French fry cartons under a heat lamp, and cheery bright red hot dogs rotating on a metal rack. We got up and served ourselves, paid, and sat back down. As we chewed we noticed a black and white TV mounted up above, playing the endless reel of “A Christmas Story.” We ate hot dogs and watched TV.
At that precise second, you wondered how you could possibly keep shuttling your young children around on Christmas Day, in order to be with both sets of families. We were flying on to North Carolina to continue celebrating the holidays with my extended sprawling family of origin–and at what cost? Couldn’t we have sat tight back at the charming row house on the park and missed one Christmas day with my brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews? What was driving this vacation? And was this, truly, a vacation?
As you all sat in the desolate snack bar munching hot dogs on Christmas Day, (in your mind’s eye, you and your tiny family were the sole denizens of the airport) you reminded yourself that you all actually chosen to travel on Christmas Day because it was not crowded. This still holds true. So, you decided to buck up and move on. But you have never been able to forgive that hot dog because it was not very tasty. How can you mess up a hot dog? Give me a foot-long at the baseball park any time.
Once we touched down and my seventy year old father met us at the gate in a Santa hat, then later sat at the end of a long varnished mahogany table and carved up the prime rib, we had seconds and thirds. And fourths. And the lit-up look on my mother’s face as she carried in the Christmas trifle after our second supper: priceless.
Looking back, you are truly grateful to have traveled during those years, when the grandparents were alive and able to give us huge hugs and host huge dinners. And, you remember the warmth you felt, sitting with your own sweet little family in the snack bar: your husband tucking the suitcases into a nearby corner, making sure we were all taken care of, your daughter in a blonde pony-tail, beaming in a candy-cane turtleneck top, your (now 6’1″) son’s legs swinging back and forth under the seat, tiny light-up sneakers not able to yet reach the floor. Overlooking the meager little repast, you felt focused on the heart.
A couple of years later you started a new tradition, Christmas at home. You felt liberated to create your own dinner: marinated beef tenderloin, goat cheese smashed potatoes, tiny peas and Pawleys Island pie. Then the following day you drove up to North Carolina for dinner. And now you look so forward to meeting your in-laws on New Year’s Eve for a beach bonfire with shrimp, new potatoes stuffed with caviar and saucers of champagne.
It’s never too late to start a new tradition of your own. Extending the celebration to last as long as humanly possible: priceless.