We are now in the middle of that grandest of yearly stretches: “The Holiday Season.”
From the end of October to the end of December, we celebrate like no other time of the year, indulging in any excuse to throw down, throw a party, throw a curve ball, throw anything in reach. Mostly, we throw the baby out with the bathwater. It’s an old saying. If you’re young, Google it.
Some of us over-schedule work to make up for missed days, take “recreational time” to the point of physical exhaustion, travel like ocean salmon on the final return home, cram in twice what we are capable of accomplishing, and still manage to read articles like, “Why Americans Stress Out Over the Holiday Season.”
For your convenience, I have compiled a short list of things you shouldn’t waste a single drop of worry-sweat over this year, mainly because none of them are going away.
The most controversial item on my list is Pumpkin Spice. This polarizing fragrance, flavor, presence, essence—whatever you want to call it—is the initial signal of the season, like it or not. It is everywhere at once; coffee shops, grocery stores, doctor’s offices and public libraries. As a matter of fact, as I write to you from my cozy home in Oliver-Eakle, pumpkin spice wafts in the open door from somewhere down my beautiful street. It’s pretty much inescapable.
The holiday season hasn’t arrived until the first whiff of pumpkin spice. Every few years, I have a pumpkin spice coffee—or whatever that stuff is—just for the sake of sentiment. Mostly, it’s a flip of the coin for me. I don’t really despise it as a cliché, but it does get old after a bit. As long as I don’t see it, hear it, smell it, or read about it in August. Which I did this year. Tacky.
The next on the list is fruitcake. In my mind’s eye, I see you throwing rotten vegetables at me. I know all of the jokes about the first fruitcake coming over on the Mayflower, and that being the same one that is passed around to this day, etc., etc. I hear all the standup routines about “Who actually consumes fruitcake? I mean, it’s the perfect gift for regifting,” etc. I only have one thing in reply to all the fruitcake naysayers: You have never had the right fruitcake. My mother’s mother made not one, but TWO kinds of fruitcake that were absolutely delectable—a dark and a light one. I could never decide which I liked best. Danielle’s mom, my mother-in-law, still makes an amazing molasses fruitcake. If you come to my house over the holidays, I might share with you. If you are nice.
Two tips on fruitcake: Slice it thin, and do not combine it with pumpkin-spiced anything.
Peeps. You know, the little marshmallow chick things. They’re not exactly seasonal—at least, not this season—but they are so maligned I thought I’d add them to the list. Kids consume them by the ton every year, which says a lot because they’re nothing but spun sugar and air. They weigh virtually nothing. They’re harmless. And they come in so many pretty pastel colors. What do you have against the poor little things?
Meatloaf. Why does meatloaf have such a bad name? Maybe because any kind of abomination (like eggplant or squash) can be slipped into meatloaf and still fit the category. I know some people put “stretchers” in, like bread or crackers. No, no, no. At my house, we love to include spicy stuff, like onions and Hatch green chilis. This is part of my wife’s heritage, and also one reason why I can never leave Texas for long.
Candy Corn. Remember this one thing about these little multi-colored morsels: They are for kids, not grownups. They are just for us to look at and enjoy the autumn colors while we wistfully recall our golden childhood. You don’t actually have to eat them. You may not recall the exact date, but one of the rites of passage into early adulthood is that October day when you wake up and discover that candy corn tastes pretty nasty. You have lost that kid filter which allows incredible amounts of sugar ingestion. You think, “I used to put these things in my mouth? By the handful?” because your adult self has applied the brakes.
Lastly, but certainly not least, Circus Peanuts. If you had grandparents, your chance of knowing these little nuggets by name (and taste!) increases by 100 percent. The only reason I ever buy them is to return to that childhood place by smell. I never could eat them.
Happy Holiday Season!