Guidelines for Holiday Meals

Can we have a chat about holiday meals? The next few weeks are going to be filled with opportunities to eat. Holiday parties, “friendmas” gatherings, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, etc. Since we’re all going to be spending many hours of our lives eating, I have a few suggestions on how to ensure that your holiday meals are pleasurable for all concerned.

Number 1: Pumpkin pie has no place at a Christmas meal. I really cannot stress this enough. Pumpkin pie has an entire holiday of its own, but that holiday is now past. In light of the vast array of much better dessert options, it’s really a mistake to allow pumpkin pie to creep into December’s gatherings. What should you serve instead? I’m glad you asked. The three best Christmas desserts are obviously chocolate fudge, peppermint silk pie, and frosted sugar cookies.

Be careful with the sugar cookies, though. An overly enthusiastic application of sprinkles has been known to ruin more than one cutout reindeer.  Less is more when it comes to sprinkles. Simplicity is the key here if you’re actually planning to eat the cookies, as opposed to just enjoying the fun of decorating them.

Number 2: The holidays are a time for tried and true recipes, not improvisation. If you have a delicious recipe for mashed potatoes, loaded with butter and cream and other wondrous ingredients, resist the urge to try that new-fangled recipe for cauliflower “mashed potatoes” you saw online. It’s perfectly acceptable to serve your Aunt Sally’s cornbread pudding every year. You don’t need to feel pressured to experiment with something new.

Now, reasonable people can agree to disagree on whether bad recipes fall under the jurisdiction of this rule. My grandmother made a yeast-dough holly ring for Christmas morning breakfast every year, complete with spearmint gummy leaves and red hot candy berries. It was always incredibly dry and fairly awful. So on the one hand, it might have been good to try something different. But, on the other, it was tradition! There was something quite lovely about seeing it appear every year.

So if you’ve got a reliably bad recipe in your holiday repertoire, I give you license to use your best judgment on whether to codify it into the holiday meal cannon, never to be forgotten or replaced.

Number 3: Turkey is not sacred. Baby Jesus is sacred. Turkey is just a large bird. And again, it’s already had its own holiday. There’s really no need to cook a turkey twice in two months. That’s slightly masochistic and the holidays are no time for such foolishness.

Number 4: Eat with other people. No, really. Get over your anxiety about whether your house is clean enough or your mashed potatoes fluffy enough and invite some friends to join you for a meal. The best part of the holidays is spending time with the people you love and there’s no better bonding opportunity than shared food.

The members of my book club organized a three-stop progressive dinner last weekend. Thirteen adults and thirteen children tromped from house to house, appetizers at one house, chili at the next, desserts at the final destination. It was raining torrentially, the kids pretty much only ate crackers and ice cream, and many drinks were spilled on the floor. So what? It was beautiful and festive and I want to do it again tomorrow.

So grab a plate of your family’s famous fudge, round up some friends, and make the most of the holiday food fest. Just please don’t serve pumpkin pie.

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