Christmas isn’t usually that memorable for me. It’s a season of green and red (a color combination I abhor), most lighting decorations are a waste of electricity (I work for a solar company), public spaces and restaurants are overcrowded (I’m a germaphobe), and, oh yeah—it’s the most egocentric time of year! Let me explain.
The spirit of Christmas is not about chopping down trees. It’s not about shopping, wasting paper on presents, or ugly knit sweaters manufactured in sweatshops either. It’s a time when we (people) are supposed to embrace one another, and celebrate our differences. We’re supposed to do it in the name of true compassion and selflessness. Christmas is the time of year when we can look at one another, accept that we’re different, and just agree to disagree. It’s time for peaceful coexistence. And yet every year, people get so wrapped up in the holiday, they forget there are those in this world who are indeed different— those of us who don’t celebrate the birth of Jesus at all.
Which is why I’m going to say this now, for once and for all. And I apologize in advance if this comes off as harsh and overly critical, but by staying silent, I’m not doing what I can to help the situation, and that makes me feel complicit.
Hey you! Yes you! Stranger whom I don’t know. Next time you feel the sudden urge to wish me a merry Christmas; know that I would appreciate the sentiment so much more if you just wished me a “happy holidays” instead. I know you mean for me to interpret “merry Christmas” in a positive way, but put yourself in my shoes for a second. How would you feel if someone made a blatant observation about your religious beliefs that was completely wrong? Would you want to correct it? Yes. Wouldn’t you be a little annoyed that someone made an assumption about you without trying to get to know you first? Yes. The rest of the year we pretend we don’t know each other, because, let’s be honest, we don’t, and all of the sudden you’re wishing me a merry Christmas as if you know it’s what I want to hear. This feels a little selfish. As if your well wishes are more for your benefit than mine, and that doesn’t seem selfless or generous at all.
And since I acknowledge that there isn’t enough time for us to really get to know one another in the brief moment I’m paying for groceries, or when we’re just passing each other on the street; I won’t think any less of you if you just keep things generic and say “happy holidays.” What do you say? Should we just kick the can down the road a little longer? Is it okay to hold off getting to know one another until our paths cross again at some later date when we can actually get-to-know-one-another?
Because you know what really sucks?
You wishing me a merry Christmas, and me politely correcting your presumptuous ass, which leads to you rolling your eyes in a way that makes me feel like I’m the jerk for not taking the compliment. A compliment that happens to define a big part of me as someone I’m not.
Sorry, I don’t know what came over me just now. Especially since I’m so used to people wishing me a “merry Christmas” and I thought I’d made peace with it….maybe I’ve still got some work to do.
So, naturally, most holiday seasons are memorable more so for the trips we take than the time spent at home. While everyone else is headed home to spend a few days bickering with family, my family is bickering on a plane, and headed someplace where our surroundings make our hanging out with each other slightly more tolerable.
This past year, the trip was Belize.
We spent Christmas day snorkeling all morning in crystal clear ocean waters with dolphins, eagle rays, permit fish, sea turtles, lion fish, spiny lobsters, etc. After a manatee siting or two, and a good soak in the sun, we took long naps, made a dent on our backlog of Bon Appetite magazines, and watched some TV.
Once the sun was set, we headed back to the clubhouse for cocktail hour and a special holiday meal. We knew there was going to be a “Christmas dinner,” but we were on an island off the coast of Belize, so we had no idea what that would look like.
“If they’re only serving ham, I’m going to ask for a double serving of dessert and call it a night,” one of us said, as we slowly climbed the stairs to the entrance. I agreed with the sentiment, but was secretly hoping they flew in a Honey Baked, because I can’t seem to get enough of that shit. None of us were wearing forest green or red. No Santa hats, no reindeer antler head bands, no snowflake broaches, mistletoe bracelets, or winter-scene prints….we opened the door, and it was like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse had descended on the Town of Whoville.
The plastic Christmas tree was aglow in the corner, candles were lit, and I could tell the table cloths had been ironed. On an island 30 miles off the coast of Belize, this was about as good as it was gonna get.
Everyone seemed to be enjoying their drinks and the conch ceviche. Two guests from Colorado were so sunburned it almost seemed intentional considering the primary color of the holiday.
And just when I thought the night would end with us stuck at our table waiting patiently for everyone to finish singing Jingle Bells and O Come All Ye Faithful, because it would be rude to leave beforehand, I met my version of Santa Claus; a guy named Ken.
Ken‘s an older Jewish man from The Hamptons. He and his wife Patty were spending the week fishing at Turneffe Flats. During dinner, they shared the story of how they met each other at a cooking school in France, where they cooked alongside culinary icons like Simone Beck who taught them how to cook in the classic French way. I was intrigued and asked them a bunch of questions, and eventually learned they were neighbors with Ina Garten, which only made them more fascinating. I asked them what they did for a living, and he explained how the culinary school experience inspired his culinary career as as the creator of the plastic fat separator (the originals were heavy, expensive and made of glass). They’re cooking in the south of France, and one thing led to another, and years later, Ken and Patty ended up creating a plastic fat separator (this is the one I use), that was cheaper, and more resilient to the hustle and bustle of a kitchen. They sold over 12.5 million units, spreading the joy of good healthy cooking around the world, and since I use mine all the time, this was my version of meeting a celebrity.
“If only I traveled with mine,” I said with sarcasm, “I’d have you autograph it!”
We went on to enjoy dinner, sharing stories of our travels, our families, and more. And now I know I’ll remember this last Christmas in Belize, not only because we were in Belize, but because that was the first time I’d met my Santa Claus. He just happened to be Jewish, beardless, from Long Island, and a lot less jolly than you’d expect. But when it came to spreading joy to millions around the world, he had us foodies covered. And the delicious ham and turkey dinner that followed was so much better than strip-mall Chinese food I was used to!
Christmas dinner in Belize
Christmas dinner in Belize wasn’t as nostalgic for me as it was for the others, since I’m used to Chinese food and a movie on Christmas day, but it was mouthwatering good all the same. Cheers to the Turneffe Flats kitchen staff who outdid themselves that night.
The buffet was beautiful and they served all the comfort food highlights you’d expect, while blending some expatriate heritage (cranberry garnish) and the charm of the Caribbean tropics (pineapple and cilantro) in for good measure.
Here’s one angle of the full spread.
Roasted turkey with dressing and they separated the dark from the white meat, which is a great way to prevent delays in the buffet line.
Honey glazed ham.
Pineapple cranberry sauce with chilies and cilantro.
Creamy mashed potatoes and dressing (dressing is the same as stuffing only stuffing is cooked inside the bird and dressing out).
Praline sweet potatoes. This was by far my favorite thing on the buffet. Amazing!
This is what it looked like under that sweet praline crust.
Sauteed green beans with almonds.
Rolls of bread in the shape of clover leafs.
My goal with dinners like this is to just focus on getting a single bite of each item, so I can sample the goods and then go back for more of what I liked the most. This is what the plate of a champion’s looks like.
For dessert, we had caramel pecan pumpkin pie.
And apple pie with a crumble top.
All in all, it was a pretty good Christmas dinner in Belize! As guests from different backgrounds and walks of life, we came together for good food, good conversation, and ultimately a good time.