Like many this year, instead of traveling to be with family, I will cook my own Thanksgiving dinner. Honestly, I don’t mind. It is sad not to see my family, but I am relieved that I will not be putting any of them in harm’s way. And I am not mad about getting to keep all the leftovers for myself.
Holiday rituals and decorations have always paled in my mind to the comfort brought by food. A big part of my comfort comes from the promise of making this meal.
I have spent years in the kitchen as sous chef to my mom. She has taught me the simplest way to care for all people is to make sure they are well fed. When mom is in the kitchen, she is creating a physical representation of her love and care for others. She doesn’t let screaming grandkids, a crowded house or trying to make things look pretty worry her. Cooking the same meal that my mom will prepare grounds me and makes me feel closer to her and the love she shares freely.
When I was a kid my dad, like his holiday hero Clark Griswold, was adamant that we find the perfect Christmas tree to chop down. The whole family had to bundle up in our winter clothes and head out into the woods behind my grandpa’s house. We trudged through the snow for what felt like hours, examining tree after tree to find the perfect one. He was never worried about how long it took and even seemed to get an evil glint of joy in his eye when we always came back to the very first tree we had considered. After chopping it down, we would then have to pick a second best tree to get for grandma’s house. We dragged both trees to the car with a renewed level of enthusiasm at the prospect of getting somewhere warm so we could regain feeling in our toes. Years later, I understand it was never about the perfect tree, rather it was about the shared experience.
My grandmother, who has now passed, was one of those beautiful scatterbrain types. Every year at Thanksgiving, she would forget at least one batch of rolls in the oven and let out a yelp as the smell of smoke would waft into the dining room. For Christmas, she would often make one of us grandkids feel like we won the lottery by giving us a Christmas present in July that she had hidden and forgotten.
That “second best” Christmas tree we brought her always ended up looking like an elf had thrown-up on it as she tried to “fix it” with tinsel. In all of these moments, I remember how she would throw her head back and let out a cackle of laughter at her mistakes. She never worried about the mishaps and imperfections; she embraced them and often shared the story in a tone of conspiratorial confidence. Grandma’s ability to laugh at herself taught me to love my own imperfections.
Even though I won’t be with my family this year, they will be with me. I feel them in the joy of holiday memories and the lessons that have made me full of love and thanks.
As the holiday season arrives this year, I wish you all moments of joy from imperfection, the ability to share unconventional experiences with your loved ones and fulfillment in the things that feel like home.