Different but possibly better
Christmas will be different this year. Whether you choose to stay safe within your household or get together with just close family, the usual congregation of extended family looks unlikely for most of us. How does the prospect of a 'different' Christmas make you feel? Sadness for missing out on 'proper' festivities? Relief for not having to endure your cranky aunt? Worried about having to do the cooking yourself? Whatever it is, it is one more opportunity to rethink and regroup that this extraordinary year offers us, amid its many challenges.
How about bringing some intuition to the Christmas table this year?
With 'intuition' I mean here listening beyond the noise of how it 'should' be to uncover what we really want it to be: What does Christmas really mean to you, personally? (Even if you don't celebrate it as such, my guess is that some kind of festivities are dear to you at this time of year.)
Take a moment to ponder: What memories do you cherish? Which part of the Christmas 'procedure' do you love most, and which parts do you hate? What memories and smells does it conjure? Which particular dish do you crave most, and which would you rather skip? A 'different' Christmas this year is an opportunity to tune into what you most love about this special time and focus your efforts on just that, while giving yourself permission to drop the parts you just carry along because it's 'always done that way'.
My own memories of Christmas very much gravitate around the theme of cooking something special and exciting, though not necessarily 'traditional'. Trying new flavours and recipes always excites me any time of the year, and having a bit of extra time makes it even more special. I don't particularly care much about traditional dishes of any kind, but that's just me sitting between too many multicultural chairs. I also love the twinkly lights and extra candles giving these very darkest days of the year a special festive glow (there is a reason why lights and winter festivities are associated!) The winter solstice is taken very seriously by our hens too: they invariably start laying again on the 26th of December!
While I really love all the kitchen excitement, I continue to be an unfussy cook, even at Christmas. A bit of extra faff is OK for a special dish, but in my world, 'special occasion cooking' never equals 'slaving in the kitchen'. So here are a few ideas on keeping it simple:
Don't kill yourself over too many side dishes. Decide on your favourites and stick to those.
Does it really have to be a whole turkey? It's big and unwieldy, takes ages to cook, and the meat is a bit bland so you need lots of 'stuff' to go with it to up the flavour. (Full disclosure, stating the obvious: I don't like turkey.)
My go to reference for unfussy, super tasty festive cooking is usually Nigel Slater. For vegetarian centrepieces as well as stunning veggie side dishes, I like to look up what Anna Jones has to say (in two parts).
Involve others. If you are worried about having to do all the cooking this year, I do highly recommend enlisting the help of the household (or your 'bubble'). Tidying the kitchen, helping with washing, chopping and peeling, clearing up things as you go, setting the table, mixing the salad dressing - there are all kinds of 'small' jobs that can be shared out to people of all ages - and it really lightens the load!
Don't forget: Cooking is meant to be social! Don't lock yourself away in the kitchen. At the very least, demand company. Even if they are not helping as such, kitchen 'companions' can still chat to you, pour you a glass of something, share in the tasting and sniffing and generally make the occasion feel as convivial as it's meant to be. You may be surprised at how different cooking feels when in good company!
Make sure to keep everyone involved in the cooking process too - talking about the recipe and the ingredients, letting people sniff the spices and share the tasting bites as you go will make everyone feel as excited about the cooking as the cook.
Yes, it may feel a bit messy but the more you can focus on cooking as a journey, the more fun will you have along the way. Try it at least once - and why not this Christmas?
Focus more on the process and less on the result for maximum enjoyment. Cook to cook, not just to eat. And when it comes to eating, stick to the same approach: Eat to eat, not just to swallow. Aim for quality not quantity. Enjoy every bite to the fullest: the anticipation, the smell, the mouthfeel, the taste... And listen to your body too: eat what you feel like, decline what you don't like, eat as much as feels right, and stop when you feel full (you can always have more later).
So, what does your ideal Christmas really look like?
Give some thought to what you truly love about the festive season, and let go of the rest, alongside with any expectations of doing it 'properly': It's meant to be a feast of joy!