Guilt, Glee and Christmas Trees

I am one of those rare New Yorkers that absolutely loves going home for the Holidays. Although my siblings might disagree, the minute I get home, I loose all contact with my picky preferences and accept our holiday habits, meals, and mayhem as a temporary version of bliss.

For about a week, I revert to a pre-1999-state, when I left the Midwest for city slicker life, slip into bulky old sweaters and sit at my spot at the family table to eat whatever meal is placed before me. I forget that I once said the best meal I ever ate was linguine with caviar and sea urchin at Le Bernadin, and suddenly it’s Mom’s mashed potatoes, Mom’s turkey noodle soup, Mom’s shrimp cocktail and prime rib dinner on Christmas Eve.

Today, when I got back to the city, I listened as my friends and colleagues reported back about their visits to in-laws in the Midwest. There were storied back-of-the-soup-can green been casseroles, jiggly Jell-O molds with Cool Whip, sickly sweet sweet potatoes, blue-cheese balls with holiday cracker medleys – all the things we love to hate about our humble culinary beginnings. We all had a good laugh at these institutions of American culture, but I felt secretly grateful that my family had somehow escaped them. Sure, I had experienced all of these fine foods at some point in my upbringing, but rarely at home, and certainly not at the holiday table.
I hate to brag, but my mom makes a mighty fine Christmas meal. It’s not to say our family is above condensed canned soup casseroles. We had them on occasion. But our holiday table has always had some version of a fresh vegetable {this year, asparagus}, a wonderfully roast meat {turkey, plumped with plenty of real butter}, smashed sweet potatoes, homemade cranberry relish, Waldorf salad, pecan pie from scratch with real whipped cream…

I was having this thought, feeling rather proud of my mom, when it occurred to me that Waldorf salad has both mini marshmallows and mayonnaise. Just then the conversation turned to miniature Christmas villages, Christmas plates, tiny tree earrings, and {aghast!} Christmas salt-and-pepper shakers. My mind flashed to a mental snapshot I’d taken of our Christmas Eve table, complete with Christmas imprinted s & p shakers, and I felt both guilt and glee.

Although I may never have a set of Christmas dishes of my own, I have to admit I love, no adore, eating off of them exclusively from the minute we arrive home until the day we head back east. They speak to me of a time and place where the world revolves around the changing of seasons and holiday flourish, instead of stock prices. Like appliqu├ęd Christmas sweaters, faded felt stockings and cream-of-mushroom casseroles, they serve as humility touchstones that insure that I shall never be too cool for a cup of Christmas cheer.

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Sarah Copeland is a food and lifestyle expert, and the author of Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite, and The Newlywed Cookbook. She is the Food Director at Real Simple magazine, and has appeared in numerous national publications including Saveur, Health, Fitness, Shape, Martha Stewart Living and Food & Wine magazines. As a passionate gardener, Sarah's Edible Living philosophy aims to inspire good living through growing, cooking and enjoying delicious, irresistible whole foods. She thrives on homegrown veggies, stinky cheese and chocolate cake. Sarah lives in New York with her husband and their young daughter.