As a child waiting for the holidays seemed endless. Watching the cooking, cleaning and preparations were always such a thrill and it created a kind of ambiance in the home that lingered there like the smell of an apple pie in the oven as it bubbles and browns.
The table would be filled with family, sometimes friends and always a cornucopia of great food to eat and enjoy with out anyone monitoring how many helpings of dessert or whipped potatoes you downed.
When I got married and was suddenly the one in charge of the festivities, it became different. Oh of course there was still that vibe of expectancy in the air, but now it was suddenly me who must provide the food and create the holiday. Now a new dimension was added to the soup…stress. Cooking, cleaning, shopping, gift wrapping and counting chairs and table settings gave me something new to focus on beside the previous, “oh boy Mom’s making my favorite potatoes this year.” And yes in case you noticed, potatoes are a running theme throughout this tome for good reasons.
Most holidays I shared phone conversation and recipes with my friend Marcia as we stuffed the fridge with numerous holiday favorites we made year after year and had become as much a part of the ritual as the actual holiday itself.
Yes, it was joyous, happy and laced with the added responsibility of shopping, cooking and all the other tasks involved in preparing a dinner. I embraced it totally and reveled in every moment I spent ensuring a delicious and gut-busting meal was on that table.
The food was a big part of the entire holiday preparation agenda. There were also presents to buy, new clothes, carrying extra chairs up from the basement and reminding my husband ten times to get the good silver down from the top of the closet.
All of these yearly rituals marked the beginning of what was hoped would be a joyous day with family.
And truth be told, no matter how hard one tried it didn’t always turn out as planned. Yet in retrospective all the memories gleaned from these moments are now a priceless photo in the album of one’s life.
Sadly, looking back on past holidays fills one with a sense of bittersweet sadness that can so easily cloud the spirit of the present.
Looking at the present table, although filled with joy at seeing my children and grandchildren, there is a deep sadness that so many chairs are empty now. Yet this is a part of life that sadly seeps into the holiday spirit. I have learned the only way to ensure a joyous occasion is to focus solely on those who are there and wipe out memories that threaten to impede on any joy.
But is this what we are truly supposed to feel?
Shouldn’t we use a holiday to remember and call up those who are no longer with us? Is this the right moment to unleash memories or should they be saved for another time?
It makes one wonder what is exactly the right balance in these situations.
I myself have had a difficult time. I strive to live in the present and extract every bit of happiness from the moment and then I suddenly find a memory creeping in as I see the brisket or a honey cake the way a favorite aunt made it, or any one of a thousand childhood memories.
I’ve come to the conclusion holidays are the very essence of bittersweet. As we go through our lives everyday the business and demands of our routine often leave little time for reminiscing. Perhaps that is why the holidays allow us to stop and savor the present, albeit tinged with hints of memory perhaps designed to include those now gone. Bittersweet as it is and always will be there is something very special about allowing the past to join the table, to fill a seat once more. Not to sadden the present or create new memories, but to ensure the old ones are never forgotten. If there is an afterlife, I would like to believe when they pass the potatoes I’ll be sitting at the table with my family once more and enjoying a second helping as well, with the added benefit of no calories!
Happy holidays to everyone and enjoy all the happy moments!