I am someone who is unapologetically enthusiastic about the holiday season. By that I don’t mean The Holidays™ — as both a Jew and a student of history, neither the Christmas Industrial Complex nor the origins of Thanksgiving give me much of a thrill. I’m talking about the act of coming together with people I love for the purpose of consuming unadvisable quantities of food and drink. For me, the holidays are a means to an end, one that I have historically enjoyed going all out to achieve — I love making three pies where one will do, love the somewhat abhorrent practice of sticking mini marshmallows into an unnaturally smooth facade of pureed sweet potato, even love the sucking sound the cranberry sauce makes as it slides languidly out of its can.
Normally, I love it all: the food, the festivity, the warm sap of sentiment that chases everything down. But this is 2020, a year in which “normal” effectively bid us all an Irish goodbye many months ago. And so as the holiday season approaches, I find myself weighing two potential strategies to deal with it. One is to try in vain to simulate some degree of whatever constitutes normalcy these days, to go all out in order to compensate for the almost limitless suckitude of the current calendar year. The other is to just say Fuck It.
Saying fuck it is not saying fuck it to the holidays, or being thankful, or family and friendship, or the taking of some very well-earned seasonal joy. Instead, it’s saying fuck the extortion to cook performatively and with great and unnecessary effort this year, a year that many of us have spent cooking at home everyday, trying to come up with ways to feed ourselves that are ever more creative, or at least not wholly dependent on a box of cereal.
I love cooking, and still even look forward to doing it, but the idea of brining a turkey or rolling out an obstinate pie crust or finding new and improved things to do to potatoes makes me want to lie down and not get up until the first crocuses emerge from the thawing dirt. I look at the way some food publications are covering Thanksgiving this year and feel perplexed: all of those recipes designed to feed six to eight, all of those debates about what is really, no really the best way to cook a turkey, all of those Instagram-appropriate desserts you should be making instead of boring, basic pie. I look at all of this content and wonder what year it is, and if I’m going crazy, or they are.
I get that some or even many people may still want to pull out all of the stops, and more power to them — assuming, at least, that they’re not gearing up for some kind of White House-proportioned superspreader fantasia. And I get that the giddy chaos of cooking too many things at once can offer the same kind of cozy catharsis you get from the Christmas movies where Diane Keaton and her unruly family bicker lovingly in a spacious kitchen. I crave that this year, just as I do any year.
But what I crave more is the catharsis of looking around, seeing everything I could do, and rejecting all of it. Because to reject it is to acknowledge that this year, trying to simulate a “normal” holiday will be like attending a wedding reception for a couple who has just broken up at the altar. And in such acknowledgement there comes the freedom to do whatever you want instead, namely nothing.
“Nothing,” however, shouldn’t be interpreted as capitulation to nihilism and soul-incinerating despair. In 2020, I think of it as more of an affirmation, a prompt to do something you actually enjoy, be it cryogenically sealing yourself in a bathrobe and watching 16 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy or taking a long walk in a place where you can hear birdsong. Like the holidays, “nothing” means different things to different people. There is no right or wrong, just the relief that comes with surrendering to it, and to the knowledge that when nothing is normal, then there’s no need to do anything that pretends otherwise.
And so this year, I will relax into “fuck it” like it is a hot tub in a redwood forest, waiting to melt away the world’s sorrows under a clear sky full of stars. I will look at all of those how-to guides designed to “help people get ready for the holidays in our new normal” and then I will look away, feeling thankful that I can choose to celebrate 2020 in the manner it deserves.