Friday, October 18, 2013

"A Christmas Memory" [originally published December 31, 2006]

Christmas is a time for many things.  It is, for example, a time to ponder the strange congruence between the song "Sleigh Ride" and the theme to Three's Company.


Come on it's lovely weather 
For a sleigh ride together with you


Where the kisses are hers and hers and his
Three's company too

But, more than that, Christmas is a time for tradition.  Some might say that tradition is nothing other than compulsion with a better public relations firm.  To me, though, tradition has always been important, and it was hugely important when I was younger.   One of my favorite traditions consisted of the twin holiday meals of Thanksgiving and Christmas—the golden-skinned turkey, the stuffing that wasn't really stuffed into anything, the cranberry sauce that retained the cylindrical shape of its can when sitting in a bowl on the dining room table.  (I never ate the cranberry sauce, but its tubularity impressed me nonetheless.)

Feeling as I did, I was shocked when, many years ago, my mother declared that she wanted the family to eat Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners at a restaurant.  Years of preparing the holiday feast had left her sick of doing all the necessary work. 

I understood her complaint.  In fact, I suggested that we could go out to eat on every day of the weeks before and after Thanksgiving, and before and after Christmas, but not on the holidays themselves.  She insisted, though, and my father was inclined to agree with her.  After much arguing, we reached a compromise.  We would eat Thanksgiving dinner at home, and Christmas dinner in a restaurant.  

The search for such a restaurant was harder than expected.  The only place that my mother could locate was a hotel serving dinner at 4:30, two hours before we usually ate.  

Christmas came, and we set out, at mid-afternoon, on one of those dispiriting December days when the world is cold and gray, but not cold or grey enough to signal the coming of snow.  The hotel served an extensive buffet, with multiple side dishes and entrees, and a prime rib, and perhaps even a special guy with a special knife and sharpening rod to cut the prime rib.  Despite the quality of the repast, it had a desultory feel . . . and still I wonder, who eats Christmas dinner in a hotel dining roomstranded business travelers, or maybe people whose stoves exploded?

And so the meal went on, unremarkably enough, until Santa Claus entered the room, and approached our table.  He drew me close, and asked, "Was Santa good to you this year?  Did he give you a lot of presents, or just whips and switches?"

Given that I was seventeen at the time, I wasn't too happy with this development.

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