The Pressure to Create the Perfect Pandemic Holiday in 2020

It’s bad when it’s not even Thanksgiving yet and I feel very, very, late to the Christmas party.

I get it, I really do, in the third wave of a pandemic “we need a little Christmas right this very minute.” So, if you had your house all gussied up for the holidays before your carved Halloween pumpkin had time to start decomposing on your front porch I not only applaud you but I’m downright jealous.

Jealous because thinking about Christmas makes me anxious. The reason is because I (like I’m sure a lot of people are) am putting a whole lot of pressure on the holidays. This Christmas has to be the best in an attempt to make up for what a horrendous and scary year 2020 has been.

I keep on telling myself that if I create a magical Christmas for my family then it will be the start of better days to come. It’s like I’m jinxing humanity if I can’t deliver a holiday masterpiece.

There are so many problems with trying to have the “best pandemic holiday ever” that not even looking through my collection of “Christmas With Southern Living” cookbooks could  ease my burgeoning panic. I even turned to the heavy hitter, the 398-page tome “Christmas All Through the South” that promises ways to build “joyful memories, timeless moments and enduring traditions.”

Certainly, a three-foot-high gingerbread pancake tower “glued” together with maple whipped cream for Christmas morning brunch sounds not only scrumptious but certainly memorable.

Then there’s a “hearty picnic in the pines” that seems very pandemic safe since you’ll be outside and who wouldn’t want to eat a caramel drop banana bread trifle dessert while perched on plaid “Royal Stewart” tartan wool blankets with matching flatware to celebrate getting your Christmas tree?

The small problem with that outing is that we get our Christmas tree from a nursery so although that trifle sounds next level delish I don’t think eating it in a parking lot would be quite the festive outing. Really, are there enough plaid blankets to make that excursion one for the memory books?

I did make a list of all the new things that I wanted my family to do since a lot of our traditions would be different this year due to the coronavirus. I then looked at that list and cried. Not a big boohoo but a few tears of anguish because the list I made meant one thing – a lot of work for me.

It’s not that I’m not exceedingly familiar with being the Christmas Sherpa in the family, I don’t know what mom isn’t, but to create new traditions and whip up a one-of-kind holiday, well, I don’t know if I have that in me.

To admit that freaked me out. It also made me feel old and a little bah humbug. But then I substituted the word “realist” for old and that helped. With my new self-appointed title of 2020 holiday realist I dove back into my Christmas books with a more pragmatic attitude.

Then in the 2006 “Christmas With Southern Living” I saw a note my mother had written on the inside cover. It read, “The magic of Christmas is being together and knowing that a family’s love is unwavering.”

I felt some of the pressure ease from my body, not all mind you, but some. We would be together for Christmas – just the four of us – and anything else will be icing on the gingerbread pancake tower.

Although, I still plan on trying some new traditions. I’m thinking of doing an outdoor Christmas Eve scavenger hunt.

Scratch that. I just told my daughter about it and she asked me, “Why do you hate us?” So, I’m guessing that’s a hard pass. At least I’ve got that pancake tower and I’m sure it will be glorious.

Cookbook Love

Settle in my friends because it’s time for me to do a deep dive into one of my favorite topics – how technology is robbing people of living a full life. To illustrate this point, I need to look no further than recipes. Yes, recipes. Confused? Stay with me because it will all soon become very clear.

Today, if you want to find out the best way to make, let’s say, a killer, mac and cheese you just type that into your phone and literally hundreds of thousands of recipes will be at your fingertips. And the first one you see will always be from the site All Recipes. (Pro tip – skip it. Who cares if it has four stars and 1,539 reviews and counting. It doesn’t explain how to make a roux which means there’s a 90 percent chance your mac and cheese will taste like the gunk you use when your kid has to construct a paper maché globe for a fourth-grade history project.)

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with using a digital device to find a recipe. I get it. It’s fast. It’s easy. You can download ingredients right to your shopping list app. Yet, you’re missing out because you’re depriving yourself of the sensory experience of not only finding that perfect recipe, but making it part of your family lore.

Full disclosure – I’m a cookbook freak. I collect and read cookbooks like other people read novels. So, I’m going to admit there’s some inherent bias in my thought process. That said, I still know I’m right because when you find an amazing recipe in a cookbook it can be an emotional experience.

There’s the joy of discovery, the years of tweaking a recipe where you write in the cookbook how you added a little of this and that. Then there’s that momentous occasion when a recipe becomes a beloved part of your family. It’s the day when you open a cookbook and behold the wonder of a page stained with greasy goodness or spilled vanilla or molasses.

A well-worn cookbook is like a best friend. As soon as you hold it in your hands you immediately feel at ease. It has the power to transport you to another time or event in your life. I even have my “go to” cookbooks (Junior League of HoustonSouthern Living 1983 Annual Recipes, and the 1982 Better Homes and Gardens) where if I want to feel like my mother is still with me I just open them up and inhale.

Right before Thanksgiving my dining room table was piled with cookbooks. I have a ritual of going through my favorites while I write down my grocery shopping list. As I was blissful perusing them certain family members mocked me for my old-school ways. “Why wasn’t I using a cookbook app?” “Did I know I didn’t have to handwrite a list?” And my personal favorite, “The 80’s called and my mom answered.”

That last one got to me. So much so, I went a little cookbook cray. I called my daughter into the dining room, sat her down and made her sniff cookbooks.

As she plunged her nose into each one I asked her if she could smell her grandmother? I picked up the Christmas With Southern Living from 2000 and told her to inhale and experience the memories of her first Christmas. Never mind that in December of that year she was still an infant and not on solid foods yet this cookbook still held the scents of that season.

Did she think I was losing it? Probably. But, I know my techie child just might be coming around to my way of thinking. I recently caught her sniffing the cookbook that has her favorite gingerbread recipe. I couldn’t have been more proud.