We had Thanksgiving. It was just one of many stops on the calendar as we become holiday nomads trekking our way through November and December.
I love Thanksgiving. It is that nearly-forgotten cross-cultural transition observance inserted between spooks and Santa (the old annual angels and demons conundrum).
So much preparation and planning go into pulling off this one meal, that it is easy to understand why I only cook twice a year, (the other occasion being Christmas Eve.)
We placed bets on how long it would be before a grandkid asked for the one item in the universe which didn’t happen to appear on the table. This year it was Carter. After perusing the elaborate banquet laid out in Martha Stewart splendor before everyone’s bedazzled eyes, he demanded sugar gruel and dippy eggs. 3 minutes, 39 seconds. A new record.
The dinner was a triumph. There were few left-overs, the most obvious evidence that our family members are apex predators being the hapless turkey carcass residing in the outdoor receptacle. We stuffed the turkey and the turkey stuffed us. Symbiosis at its most elemental.
Of course, everyone’s favorite part of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner was the traditional after-dinner “piecing,” in which no preposterous socially mandatory instruments such as spoons or forks are required to continue the feeding frenzy…only fingers. Rudimentary foraging. Forget sterile procedure. We consumed enough densely-packed calories to allow for hibernation in the arctic. The behavior of our family gaggle inspired us to trace our genealogy back to cro-magnon. There was a constant rhythmic percussion of “thup, thup,” as wads of everything from salad to potatoes were compressed between thumb and forefinger and sucked past the epiglottis into the gut. This continued for hours…perpetual indulgence playing itself out like a culinary mutation of “Groundhog Day.” Eating can be entertaining, if not particularly pretty.
Unfortunately, we have become casualties of our own success, because out of success is born…TRADITION! Tradition tyrannizes. Tradition is like a malignant parasite. Very subtly and almost unnoticed, tradition burrows into one’s holly-filled heart, infests the mistletoe of the mind, and corrupts one’s holiday spirit. Before one has time to say “HOOAH Fudrucker’s!” one has morphed into a member emeritus of the comically depraved.
Oh, I start December with the highest ethical standards of merriment. I deck every hall. I hang each stocking by the chimney with great care. I roast chestnuts on an open fire. I hark every herald angel in the choir. I play my drums whenever I see a nativity, and even toot my own horn. I actually bought a spinet just to play carols on. I am the repository of every magnanimous thought, and all the fa la la la la’s emitted from my mouth bring joy to the world.
But somewhere along the way, (usually about December 2nd), something happens. Things change. I change. There is a dark side to the holidays. I begin grinning idiotically. Exhaustion, triptophan, and lack of sufficient oxygen to the brain combine to produce a combustible condition that transforms me from Suzy Snowflake to the odious Mrs. Hyde. I LOSE MY FA LA LA LA LA! Dark circles ring my eyes like malignant door wreaths. The constant swilling of caffeine renders my eyes stark, red, and unable to blink. Daily affirmation is abandoned. For 30 consecutive days, I become the unrelenting alter-ego, a mal-lingual, evil speaking embodiment of the anti-uber-celebrant…ashamed, but unrepentant.
The disintegration from celebration to degeneration develops incrementally. Ironically, it usually occurs in about twelve steps, rather like a mutation of those required for addiction recovery program, and remarkably similar to the “Twelve Days of Christmas” carol that triggers the instinct to kill after the third time it is sung in its entirety. I doubt I’d be convicted by a jury of my peers. (Just what are “lords a’ leaping” anyway??)
And so in particular and exquisitely precise order, here is my own peculiar advent calendar of December days as they occur in reality, without the distortion of the nostalgic lenses of Currier and Ives and Thomas Kincaid. This is the precipitous metamorphosis from rationality to debauchery in a matter of a mere six weeks. Caution: The following contains graphic and raw images that may be disturbing to those who have not yet begun their Christmas shopping. It is not for the faint of heart. Viewer discretion is advised.
1. Eat. Pray. Love.
2. Eat. Pray. Clean.
3. Eat. Clean. Shop.
4. Shop. Rush. Decorate. Clean again.
5. Eat. Eat. Eat.
6. Eat. Decorate more to keep up with the neighbors. Cry. Curse.
7. Buy. Wrap. Buy more to surpass the neighbors. Collapse.
8. Overspend. Break budget on annual gift blizzard. Go to debt counseling.
9. Buy yet more. Take out loan. Attend weekly sessions of Over-spenders Anonymous.
10. Eat. Weigh. Cry.
11. Weigh. Diet. Curse. Binge. Splurge. Purge.
12. Look in the mirror. Become clinically depressed. Call plastic surgeon.
13. Destroy all of Bing Crosby’s CD’s for the crime of auditory overload. Blast TV with shotgun after 10th re-run of “It’s A Wonderful Life” while planting explosives in all the underwear of every resident in Whoville, forcing them to yield to the moral superiority of brute force. Make random threats to no one in particular while muttering incoherently.
14. Dismember anyone who utters the diabolical duo: Zhu Zhu. Neutor Rudolph and single-handedly commit gender reassignment on Santa’s entire herd of reindeer. Resist the urge to waterboard all the residents of the North Pole. (Commonly known as blurring ethical lines for a higher cause.)
15. Curse the names of Normal Rockwell and Irving Berlin. Start a rumor that every chestnut on every open fire and every sugar plum that dances in every head is contaminated with H1N1. Begin singing duets with Brian David Mitchell.
16. Break the drum of every little drummer boy on the planet. Maniacally proclaim Bristol Palin the World’s greatest dancer ever. Run naked down the street shouting, “Santa is a fleshy fraud and we’re all going to die!”
17. Eat. Cry. Beg Santa to up my Zoloft.
18. Swear. Swear. Swear – while eating.
19. Deck more halls. Deck fellow shoppers. Go home with migraine.
20. Seek forgiveness. Join 12-step program for harsh language addiction. Enter rehab for the criminally profane.
I can’t wait for January and the return of drab, monotonous rationality, when our only concerns are wars, crime, politics and scandal. Of course, in the Ashton household, “WikiLeaks” are just failed attempts at toilet training little boys.
Before I surrender my dignity to the seasonal rant-and-collapse recurring cycle, like an endless video loop, I will try to remember it’s not about the frenzy, it’s about the purpose. As December 2nd approaches, and I am one ho ho ho away from being institutionalized for felonious merriment, I will send this sage advice along with my Christmas greetings: Eat. Pray. Love.