A Holiday Season Like No Other

I woke at 2:30 this morning unable to shut my brain off. With Giftmas quickly approaching I began thinking of all the things I have yet to do, but this holiday season is like no other. I haven’t baked a single pie, I’ve made exactly one batch of cookies, and I haven’t hosted a single gathering. The holidays are incredibly different this year.

Like many others, I always anticipate the holiday season for several reasons. The parties, the fellowship, the camaraderie, and of course the food. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the entire year and I truly enjoy cooking that meal. Christmas is one of three days on the calendar when I don’t cook. By this time I have usually scoured all the casino restaurants’ menus and made a reservation for dinner, but I didn’t do that this year. This year is unlike any other since we got married.

“Island of Lost Toys” Thanksgiving

For more than 30 years my husband and I have hosted the “Island of Lost Toys” Thanksgiving. It started when we were overseas. We couldn’t fly home for the holiday, so we invited our friends from the barracks and the childless couples we knew and enjoyed “chosen family”. When we moved back to the states, the tradition continued. With my kitchen in shambles because of the renovation (no sink, no workspace, or countertops) we hosted no one. To say it was weird is an understatement. I was literally bereft. I cried (in the shower like I always do so no one can see me or hear me) because I didn’t want to be alone. Yes, I’d have my devoted husband, my darling offspring, and my sib from another crib, but what about everyone else?

Then I got to thinking. Many of the people we have hosted over the past decade are no longer in our circle of friends for one reason or another. Some have left the area; some have moved on in other ways, and the boundaries I have learned to set for myself have forced me to tighten my circle as well. But what of the others? My mom brought it up – No one thought to invite us to join their table when they knew I couldn’t cook a true Thanksgiving meal.

New Neighbors to the Rescue

Our new neighbors came to the rescue! After helping friend Kim cull her turkeys (yes, I mean slaughter and butcher them), she kindly invited us to join her Thanksgiving tradition of yakitori. I had never done that before. Chinese food on Christmas? SURE! But Japanese on Thanksgiving? My brain couldn’t compute it. Oddly, it was just what I needed. Helping man the grill with other invitees, casually hanging around and noshing instead of loading a plate and being seated was a perfect antidote to my Thanksgiving ennui. It was like the best cocktail party you ever went to. Interesting people, fun conversation, tasty small bites of food, and wandering around meeting new people. I walked in a nervous wreck and left lighter and happier. It was just what I needed but didn’t know it.

We then proceeded to Esther’s Kitchen where Chef James Trees had kindly invited us to join him, his family, and staff for a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Because I was raised to never show up empty handed, I brought the aforementioned batch of cookies and Deez Nuts. This gathering was exactly what I needed too. Again, surrounded by loads of people, eating delicious food, and feeling like I was part of something bigger than myself. I was honored and humbled to be included. I think I thanked him profusely to the point of embarrassment, both mine and his. And I wept on the way home.

Home for the Holiday…just not MY home

And now, on the precipice of yet another holiday, things are different again. For the first time in ages, I won’t be in my own home for Christmas. The last time this happened was when we skipped Christmas and went to Mexico. This year we are spending the holiday with my sisters in law. The Hubs’ sister Bonnie and her wife Gretchen live in San Francisco and we are braving air travel during the holiday season to join them. I am excited and a little nervous at the same time. New traditions will be embraced, and I am sure joy will be had with people we love, but I won’t be “home for the holidays”. It just feels weird.

The most entertaining thing (for me) about the plans for this trip was a text convo with Gretchen about Christmas dinner. She wanted to know what I wanted to make and was a little shocked by my response. I told her I don’t cook on Christmas and whatever she decided to do was fine. I will be sous chef this year. Because I was warned there will be shucking in my future, my oyster knife will be packed.

When we moved into this home in April, I had every intention of a holiday housewarming party. I had plans for decorating and a mental menu of the food and drinks I would serve. The guest list was all compiled in an Excel spreadsheet. Construction delays forced me to embrace a new timeline; one I am not at all happy about. I dislike uncertainty and frequently have trouble “going with the flow” unless I am on vacation. So maybe the housewarming will be in the spring? Who the hell knows!?

Hug your people, bring them in close and tell them you love them. That’s the most important thing about the holiday isn’t it?