Believing in the Holiday Spirit

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THERE WERE TIMES in my youth I thought Santa lived with my grandmother. I grew up across the street from my maternal grandparents. It was on a day I was sick at home from school, busy building a tent of sheets over a collection of chairs in the living room, when a sixth sense gave me pause. Just as I came out of my cave and into the light, I looked out the patio window and I spotted him—a large mass of red flannel and a flowing white beard bolted out the kitchen door and jetted away in my grandfather’s black Pontiac. I had to alert the authorities—my mom.

“Honey, let me take your temperature,” I remember her saying. “You were running a fever and what are you doing up?” Well, I was sick but was feeling a lot better, and I was pretty sure how I felt had nothing to do with Santa stealing my Papa’s car to escape with a sack of possibly stolen stuff.

My father was a journalist, and he held me to standards of observation and reporting. To be a credible eyewitness, I had to be sure of what I saw and recall it without emotion. No hyperbole, no histrionics. But this was Santa himself for goodness sakes—how could I not be hysterical!

Without embellishment, I recounted what I had witnessed to my dad. This is what he told me (paraphrasing): “Sometimes, even the best observers at the same event can see things differently. We can be influenced by angle, light or the simple desire to see things a certain way, like familiar things, wishful things or what we expect to see. It’s possible, since it’s almost Christmas, you want to believe that Santa sees you or at least listens. Maybe your grandfather left home in a hurry wearing a red shirt carrying packages. Let’s ask him tomorrow.”

Although I cannot see it clearly even now, I do vividly remember familial scenes at Christmas—a table of sweet potatoes baked with apples and cinnamon, cornbread and oyster dressings, cranberry sauce with nuts and hints of orange, stuffed mirliton with shrimp and a beautiful roasted turkey. It is at this convenient point that I’d like to suggest my favorite way to cook a whole turkey where every part of the bird is juicy and flavorful. Forget about basting, lose that fryer and dangerous hot peanut oil. Brine that bird! See my recipe for Apple Cider Brined Turkey.



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