What I like least about Christmas: the pervasive awareness that for so many people, Christmas is not what they wish it was. It’s hard to celebrate wholeheartedly knowing how many people are unable to celebrate the way they would like to – and the way that so many marketing messages tell us we all should – because they are hobbled by illness or financial woes or physical distance from loved ones.
But there are many things I do like about the holiday season: the parties, the decorations, the special concerts and performances.
Way up at the top of the list of what I like about the holidays, though, is the food. Every year, the list of foods I traditionally make for the holiday season seems to grow. When we were in our twenties, Rick and I developed the habit of making truffles for gifts, and that was our sole holiday cooking ritual for years. But now the roster has expanded. The candy we make for gift-giving includes the original truffles but also peppermint bark, toffee, peanut brittle, and peanut butter balls. For entertaining, we make chocolate mousse pies, eggnog cheesecakes, peppermint chocolate layer cakes, at least two or three of each every season. For parties, we buy specialty cheeses and dips.
Sometimes I almost regret the fact that we eat so well all year long, diminishing the specialness of fine food on holidays, but we purposely avoid these special Christmas foods the other eleven months of the year so that they always seem like a novelty when their time comes around. It’s true that eating large and rich meals is not a luxury reserved for holidays, as it must have been for almost everyone centuries ago when a Thanksgiving or Christmas feast stood out markedly from the menus of the rest of the year. But the candies and eggnog cheesecake and peppermint layer cake are always something I’ve gone eleven months without, and the return to those savored treats are among my favorite things about the holiday season.
This week, I’ll start baking in earnest: for our annual cookie exchange party tonight among a small group of friends, for gifts for the kids’ teachers and our neighbors and other friends; later for Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day brunch. I could happily live without ever hearing another Christmas TV ad from Target or another story about Black Friday shoppers gone mad, and I wouldn’t even mind a ban on inflatable ten-foot-tall Santas in people’s front yards. But the tastes of Christmastime bring back all the best of the season to me, and I’m looking forward to the kitchen soon filling up with the aromas of chocolate and butter once again.