Practice makes perfect, which makes the holidays pretty hard to perfect. A whole year between events, you forget all the insanity that made you say, “Never again,” the year before.
But at this point in my life I’ve been through enough holiday seasons that it’s starting to register. My short-term memory may occasionally fail me, but my long-term memory—especially when it comes to holiday overload—is Santa sharp.
My husband is an Episcopal minister. We often joke that if the church job doesn’t work out we could always open a restaurant because we’re used to all the nights, weekends, and holidays. Since Christmas Eve is one of the biggest days of the church year, it’s David’s job to make it happen big time for our bustling parish, which means it naturally falls on me to make it happen for our family.
While there are lots of incredible perks with his work, the week before Christmas is not among them. Over the years I’ve experimented with how to negotiate the holidays, and while I realize Kubler-Ross’s seven grief stages weren’t specifically designed for Christmas management, I see similarities in my coming to terms with the holidays. It all started with
Shock. David’s last year in seminary, I realized the holidays as we had known them were about to be over. Home for the holidays would always mean ours. That year we hauled an astounding number of presents to my parent’s for our last away holiday. In the years that followed I lived in
Denial. Pretending we were like everyone else on Christmas Eve, I’d make lavish three-course dinners (and the accompanying mess) that no one really wanted or had time for, which filled me with
Anger. I wanted a holiday where we were all together wrapping last-minute presents, listening to festive music, making and savoring magazine-cover meals, which was clearly not possible, but what was? As I floundered I began
Bargaining. Maybe I could just get everyone to sit for a quick festive supper between services? But bargains never work. At this point I couldn’t see the way to merge my holiday fantasy with our Christmas reality, so
Depression set in. That was the year I actually watched Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom before heading off to the midnight service. I tried to sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” but the Christmas spirit was not coming. After hitting rock bottom, I started
Testing new ideas by bringing Maggy and Sharon into the process. When I finally bothered to ask them what they wanted for Christmas Eve meal, they responded without hesitation, “Hors d’oeuvres!” Young teens at the time, they helped plan the menu, and because they were invested, they even helped cook a little too. Deviled eggs, chicken wings, egg rolls, ham biscuits, and shrimp cocktail were among the many hors d’oeuvres we made that first year. This loosey-goosey celebration was perfect for David’s schedule of four services and the fun food was good for us all, so
Acceptance was a natural, and for the last dozen or so years, Christmas Eve hors d’oeuvres has been an Anderson family tradition.
Last year we riffed on Italian Christmas Eve, making seven different fish and seafood hors d’oeuvres—our favorite thus far, and one I think we’ll continue until someone comes up with a better idea.
Last year I also let our friends bring some of the food and wine. Right before they arrived we all acknowledged how peaceful the kitchen was. For Christmas Eve at the rectory, this was about as silent a night as I’d seen in twenty years.
Mom, it was only when I sat down to write a response to your post that I realized that coconut shrimp is probably the least Christmas-y food imaginable. Sounds like something best served at a summer BBQ or a Hawaiian themed office party. And if you’re looking for the quintessential Christmas hors d’oeuvre, this probably isn’t for you (during the holiday season). But for us – it’s perfect. There’s a lot that’s traditional about an Anderson family Christmas, but the food is not. That being said (and let it be noted that I have never before said this on 3MC), you must make coconut shrimp. Really, it’s for your own good. Whether you make a batch for friends and family this Christmas or eat an entire plate to yourself after the holidays are over, you will be making coconut shrimp for years to come. Yup, they’re that good.
Simon Beachley says
Loved this! How you handled the seven stages were perfect. I guess Dave isn’t the only wise one in your family. Can’t wait to try the shrimp too.
Hugs to you all,
I can’t imagine Christmas anymore without Pam’s Coconut Shrimp!! I feel like it’s not truly Christmas Eve until i’ve had a piece…or two…or five. The best is that dad and Shelby don’t care for coconut, so Maggy and I usually end up devouring the plate when we think no one is watching
So glad you posted the recipe, Pam!
My husband is a minister too, and for years I’ve had this fantasy that THIS year everything will be relaxed and stress-free. Every holiday is his big work day, so instead of fighting it (I guess that would be Step 3!) I’m learning to lower my expectations and keep it simple. A peaceful kitchen and a peaceful and fun wife/mom — that’s what the family really wants. Thanks for your great post — I needed it!
Blake Robinson says
Pam, this is masterful. I’m going to be looking for ways to apply K-R’s seven stages other stressful things in life, like maybe encountering someone with road rage (towards me).
keep up the great work. hope I’m asked back soon as a guest photographer…..blessings, Blake
Threemanycooks can use all the help we can get in the photography department. Whenever you’re willing, just say the word, and we’ll set up a shoot just for you! Now that I’ve got beginning photography under my belt, you might actually be able to teach me a thing or two now!