I am spending this week watching holiday specials. Not the cartoons and tired old movies of yore (Come on admit it, It’s a Wonderful Life is three hours of tedious, sentimental schlock.), but holiday food and cooking shows, specifically of the UK variety.
As it turns out, holiday cooking shows are the big thing for UK chefs, and anyone with an existing series, or a cookbook, or a well-known restaurant, is there on the screen, setting fire to booze-soaked puds and making the holiday hassle look easy. But because there are so many shows, so many chefs competing for viewers’ attention, they’ve all got to do something different, to jazz up the traditional Christmas dinner in some way to make it unique.
Stuart Heritage of the Guardian sees the mass of holiday cooking shows as a as testament to gluttony in the “so… much… foooooood” vein. Because, he claims, it’s all about the watching and not about the cooking. But isn’t that really the saddest part? By which I mean, I bet that your Christmas dinner this year will be exactly like the Christmas dinner you had last year, and the year before that, and the year before that… there will be no trying of new dishes from Jamie or Nigella or Gordon. It’s fun to watch, sure, but hey, don’t fuck with Christmas dinner.
Humans are creatures of habit, to be sure, but we attach special significance to habits related to tradition. Even if everybody hates the mashed yams with the marshmallows on top, it gets served every year because someone, at some point, claims to have liked it. And serve lamb or beef instead of the traditional turkey or goose? Heaven forbid!
Now maybe some people find comfort in things being exactly the same every year – you dig out those Christmas plates, arrange them atop the Christmas tablecloth, and set dishes about the table in exactly the same place they go in every year. The food is the same, cooked the same way, and everyone is all warm and cozy and happy in the fact that some things never change.
Please tell me that I’m not the only person that this scares the crap out of.
Don’t get me wrong, I think that holidays and traditions are great, and marking milestones is an important part of our culture. But maybe it really is time to rethink Christmas dinner. It doesn’t have to be anything outrageous, I’m not suggesting people replace turkey and mash with a set of obscure Thai dishes from some remote village accessible only by moped. I get that nobody really wants Christmas sushi. But maybe things don’t have to be done exactly the same way every year.
Seriously – throw a bit of orange peel in the cranberry sauce, live dangerously and cook and mash those potatoes with the skins on. Hell, maybe use olive oil instead of butter! Put some nutmeg in that apple pie, just for shits and giggles. You never know, you just might like it!
I don’t have anything against any of the typical components of the traditional Christmas meal, I just feel oppressed by the idea that they all have to be there and nobody is ever allowed to try anything new or change anything. It could be why my own Christmas celebrations are minimal, at best, but to me, committing to some kind of Groundhog’s Day-like repetition every year is really a subtle form of death by turkey.