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SAVAGE: Thanksmas: How to take back the holiday season

• Nov 14, 2017 at 1:00 PM

Holidays in general have never been my thing. I long ago gave up on false expectations of Valentine’s Day and the forced hilarity of New Year’s Eve. St. Patrick’s Day is just an excuse to drink revolting green beer. I don’t celebrate Easter, Halloween creeps me out, and for the life of me I can’t remember birthdays.

But Thanksgiving and Christmas? Oh baby, now you are speaking my language. By which I mean food, lights, food, music and food. Did I mention food?

The fourth Thursday in November until Dec. 25 is all one big holiday for me. It’s Thanksmas, the time to give more, decorate more and love more.

‘Tis the season of thanks, yet we seem to have forgotten how to be thankful. We have an unlimited selection of things we don’t need and an obscene abundance of possessions, yet we only want more.

I can remember my mother saying, “I can’t wait for the holidays to be over” or “Let’s just skip Christmas this year,” and I wondered why something so fun was also such a burden. The faces of Christmas shoppers say it all. Not smiling. Not excited. What should be a delight has become a checklist and a chore.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Let’s face it: Our holidays have been hijacked. Entire industries are dedicated to the science of convincing us that things we buy will make us happy. It’s not easy to push back the advertisers, the world and our peers, but it can be done. We can take back the holidays.

This year, how about actively seeking others who need help and giving them something to be thankful for? I own an extreme cleaning company, and we have a front-row seat to the heaps of hidden misery that lay behind closed doors. A true gift could be doing the laundry, a dinner invitation or a ride to the doctor.

Perhaps this season you can pick out the top three or four things you like about the holidays — maybe music, lights, food — then forget the rest.

Free concerts are abundant during the holidays. Our tradition is Tubachristmas; the schedule is available at tubachristmas.com.

Lights are everywhere, and a simple drive or walk down Washington Avenue in Grand Haven will warm the heart and delight the spirit of the weariest soul.

All of which brings us to my favorite subject: food.

Of any meal we make through the year, a turkey dinner is arguably the least expensive, and the easiest. Magazine covers scream that you really need help with this. “Timeline for the perfect holiday feast!” or “Countdown to Thanksgiving Dinner, a step-by-step guide to making your in-laws finally appreciate you!” Of course, these helpful articles always include recipes for a mushroom and fontina crostini appetizer, frozen raspberry pistachio terrine, and 25 new and creative ways to cook a turkey.

Oh, please. A bird, some mashed potatoes cooked ahead with a little cream cheese blended in, yams thrown in a pan with a little butter and brown sugar, some green beans, and badda bing, badda boom, everyone is happy. Everything but the turkey can be made ahead, so the dishes are done and you’re presentable and relaxed, festive beverage in hand, when guests arrive. The turkey can also be made slightly ahead, but should still be in the oven so everyone thinks you worked really hard. As long as you remember to remove the bag of giblets before roasting the bird, you’ll be a success.

As for stuffing and gravy, there is really only one correct way to make it, and that is however your mother did it, so proceed accordingly.

Also to be ignored are magazine covers that read “25 signature cocktail recipes to wow your guests!” Seriously, is the world’s biggest problem that we don’t have enough cocktail recipes?

When my kids were young, Thanksgiving was a traditional turkey dinner, but Christmas had a theme. Since the kids are half-Mexican, there were often tamales, both savory and sweet. Our British dinner featured beef Wellington, Yorkshire pudding and an English trifle for dessert. One year, we did My Big Fat Greek Dinner — the table laden in lamb, spanikopita, baklava and dolmades; another was a Cajun Christmas, when I lined the table with newspaper and piled shrimp and crab down the middle, serving them with red beans and rice, grits, and pecan bread pudding. We ate with our hands, threw seafood shells everywhere, and downed it all with plenty of cheap red wine.

When the kids were in high school, we began going to a movie and then out for Chinese food on Christmas Day. What a great and relaxing way to spend the day.

On my last Christmas in California, three years ago, 32 people were gathered at my table. It was a celebration of a lifetime of Christmas dinners I had hosted for family, friends and often strangers off the street. We ate, laughed, reminisced, and I held back tears. Although I wouldn’t leave until the following summer, I knew that Christmas dinner was my bittersweet farewell.

Now the kids are grown and gone. They have houses or apartments and real jobs, and for the first time at Christmas, my house will be empty. If you can recommend a good Chinese restaurant, I’ll be grateful.

— By Shari Savage, Tribune community columnist

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