88. I Ruined Christmas Dinner

88. I Ruined Christmas Dinner

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas!

I Ruined Christmas Dinner

At the end of the day, a loving family should find everything forgivable.

~Mark V. Olsen

Nobody wants to be remembered as the jerk who ruined Christmas dinner. I certainly never thought that I could be a holiday saboteur, but the season can be full of surprises… good and bad.

For some families, Christmas is all about the presents, the carols, or going to church. For my clan, Christmas was all about eating. The feast was planned weeks ahead of time along with heated debates about whether there should be any deviation in stuffing ingredients. We licked our chops anticipating my dad’s famous giblet gravy and shared collective fantasies about when the turkey would be revealed in all its delectable splendor. We were about substance and heartiness — the more, the better. As far as we were concerned, leaving cookies and milk for Santa was for amateurs.

“All that sugar?” my mother would exclaim. “We don’t want Santa’s teeth to fall out, do we?” as she’d assemble a cold cut platter by the stockings.

“Santa needs to keep his strength up after a long night of delivering presents,” my dad would agree, as he’d contribute a few garlicky sausages and a bottle of beer.

It may not have been particularly charitable, but we judged those who could not keep up with our eating abilities, viewing small appetites as a sign of a repressed nature. We scoffed at carolers and Christmas shoppers. Who could possibly sing with a full belly? Why waste time shopping at a mall when you could be at the butcher’s selecting the plumpest turkey? The dining room table was our altar and we were a devout and faithful flock.

In retrospect then, declaring that I was becoming a vegetarian a week before Christmas was probably not the best choice, timing wise. But declare I did.

You could have heard a pin drop.

“Where did we go wrong?” my mother lamented. “Why are you doing this to us?”

“I just don’t want to eat anything cute anymore,” I said.

“Have you ever looked at a turkey?” my mother cried, incredulous. “They’re downright ugly!”

Actually, I considered turkeys to be in the category of ugly-cute. The hanging bit of flesh at their necks and their beady little eyes made them endearing. Their ridiculous gobble and off-kilter strut breaks my heart a little, kind of like seeing an old woman tottering in a pair of high heels. I just couldn’t bear to eat them anymore, regardless of how delicious they were when basted to golden perfection.

“What do you expect to eat for Christmas?” my father asked quietly, unable to look at me.

“I don’t like squash!” my mother yelled to no one in particular.

“What about soup?” my sister asked. “Are you still able to eat turkey broth? That’s just the bones.”

My father didn’t say anything more as he glared into space.

My grandmother started playing with the paring knife she always carried in her pocket, narrowing her eyes at me menacingly.

“Well, you guys can still do the whole turkey thing and I can eat the vegetables,” I suggested, forgetting for a moment that bacon is the secret ingredient in most of my parents’ side dishes.

Silence.

“Or I can cook and we can expand our horizons,” I chirped, trying to mask my mounting panic. “It’s all about the sides anyway, isn’t it? Nobody really likes turkey on its own.”

Blasphemy. Maybe I was wrong and it was, in fact, all about the turkey. After all, meat was king in my family while vegetables served merely as window dressing: a hindrance, taking up valuable real estate on the plate. All eyes were fixed on me, my family members’ expressions a mix of horror and disgust, as though I had grown a turkey head of my own and was gobbling at them.

“You’ll never find a husband,” my grandmother finally spat.

“You’ve chosen birds over your own family,” my father muttered.

“I’ll be damned if I’ll touch a Tofurkey,” my sister sneered.

“We could buy a small turkey,” I stammered. “Or you’ll just have extra leftovers for sandwiches. That’s always fun.”

My dad had already left the room. Somewhere I heard a door slam.

My untimely declaration of vegetarianism created a tragic chasm in my family. In the days leading up to Christmas there was a definite chill in the air that wasn’t a result of the dropping temperatures outside. I had tampered with something that unified us and something that we all held dear. Regardless of our differences, we had always found common ground around the table. Food was love and meat was the glue that held our family together. Now I had dared to mess with it.

I started to worry that I had ruined Christmas. Instead of breaking bread with my family we would be breaking bonds and it would be all my fault. When it was time to gather around the table for Christmas dinner I was nervous. I tried to remove the bacon bits from the Brussels sprouts as discreetly as possible while the cauliflower gratin I had made sat untouched, a lone vegetable pariah among the dishes of giblet gravy and sausage stuffing. “Guess we know who’s getting a lump of coal in her stocking this year,” my sister whispered.

As the platters were passed, and I tried to swallow the anxiety in my throat, a strange thing happened. It began with my mom spooning heaps of mashed potatoes on my plate, piled high with mounds of butter. “Well, at least she’s not a vegan,” she said. My dad made his traditional joke about the turkey being the size of a sparrow when it was in fact the size of a small family camper. My sister took a modest spoonful of cauliflower and admitted that it was tasty. My grandmother put her paring knife back in her pocket. Soon we were smacking our lips and exclaiming over how delicious everything was and snickering at other families who declared themselves full after one helping. There was a definite thaw. I discreetly unbuttoned my pants, as I did every year, leaned back and basked in the joy that my family finds in sharing food.

These days I enjoy a Christmas Tofurkey while the rest of my family dines on a massive bird. My mother continues to insist that she hates squash to whoever will listen. We still know that Santa prefers beer and cold cuts rather than cookies and milk. The plates may look different, but the act of sharing and rhapsodizing about food remains. We will always love stuffing ourselves and mocking the lightweights who cannot keep up. I didn’t ruin Christmas after all. In fact, I like to claim that my Christmas vegetarian announcement helped my family realize that our bonds are stronger than any turkey dinner and that it’s not what’s on the plates that matters but who is gathered around the table.

~Kristine Groskaufmanis

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