Once I believed that the holidays meant rituals of obligation: a Thanksgiving feast, and then with barely a breath in between, an almost obsessive need to bestow gifts. When my sons were young, I filled secret places with toys and gadgets, even making one final sweep on Christmas Eve for that “needed” stocking surprise. I […]
By Mel Allen
Nov 23 2015
Mel AllenPhoto Credit : Jarrod McCabe
Once I believed that the holidays meant rituals of obligation: a Thanksgiving feast, and then with barely a breath in between, an almost obsessive need to bestow gifts. When my sons were young, I filled secret places with toys and gadgets, even making one final sweep on Christmas Eve for that “needed” stocking surprise. I thought that that’s where the magic happened, with their eyes wide in the bedtime dark (you might even hear Santa’s sleigh gliding beneath the stars), then the quivering excitement at daybreak when they found the living room transformed by prettily wrapped presents. Presents that a few weeks later mostly waited askew in corners of the playroom, their shiny newness already worn off. On to other things.
Nigel Manley’s Christmas unfolds across hundreds of acres of balsam fir trees that he oversees at The Rocks Estate in Bethlehem, New Hampshire (“A Tree Grows in Bethlehem,”). He sees children bending low to harvest their special tree—the tree that soon will suffuse their home with the scent of a northern forest. Christmas arrives, too, in the sacred quiet of St. Joseph’s Abbey, in Spencer, Massachusetts, where Trappist monks live in contemplation, work, and worship ( “A Life That Is ‘Ordinary, Obscure, and Laborious,’”). While their famous jams have been joined now by their ales, their lives are still as distant from the box-store frenzy as if they existed on a separate earth.
This Yankee issue understands that the magic has always been about the gathering—and that the gathering happens around food. This is where we find the heart of the holidays, no matter which ones we celebrate, or when, as long as we’re with people we care about, passing around the platters. And it’s not about filling bellies—there are a lot of ways to do that—but about keeping our loved ones close. A student of mine in Bay Path University’s MFA writing program, Kathleen Bourque, wrote recently about a memory: “My kitchen will not rid itself of the stench of boiled cabbage. But if I listen closely, I can again hear the Clancy Brothers singing as we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in my childhood home, while Dad carves the corned beef …”
Inside these pages—from a bourbon-brined turkey to apple pie to the best homemade foods in New England—the real story lies in the making of memories: the desserts cooling, the turkey browning, the table aglow with anticipation. Now with the shortening days, until it seems that daylight is merely an intermission, we turn inward, to hearth and home, for sustenance. You can’t ever overindulge at this table. Years from now that sliver of pie, the sharp scent of balsam, the bite of crisp turkey skin, the aroma of rolls hot and buttery, will mingle with the laughter of friends and family, and you’ll return to a time when the magic was never hidden, just always there.