Christmas Day is over, but the tree is still up — for a week or two longer anyway. We’re still feasting on leftover ham and turkey; the table remains littered with a half eaten pecan pie, sugar cookies, mini donuts, chocolates, and a quarter of cinnamon bunt cake. Oh, help. New Year’s Eve is one day away, thus, more eating. Instead of just allowing myself to overindulge this year, I want to truly feast — not just on good food, but on good company — being fully present with my family without an iPhone attached to my palm. I want to bless the ending of one year and sound the arrival bells of the next with laughter and tears (for me, the two have always gone together.)
We celebrate with feasting — turkey, ham, and maybe even roast goose. The best holiday films visualize heart-warming scenes around the table, or even en route to dinner, such as with Mr. Matuschek in the film The Shop Around the Corner (1950, played by Frank Morgan: most famous for his role as the wonderful Wizard of Oz). Recovering from an emotional breakdown (and failed suicide attempt) because of his wife’s betrayal, Mr. Matuschek faces the possibility of Christmas dinner alone. He reaches out to his employees as they leave one by one, wishing him a merry Christmas. The old gentleman’s hope wanes, until finally a lone errand boy gives him reason to get excited again.
“Rudy! Do you like chicken noodle soup?”
“I certainly do.”
“And what would you think of roast goose stuffed with baked apples? And fresh boiled potatoes and butter and some red cabbage on the side?”
“I'd love it!”
“And then cucumber salad with sour cream? Then a double order of apple strudel with vanilla sauce.”
“You're going to have it, Rudy. Come on. Here, taxi!”
This is one of my favorite scenes. Mr. Matuschek knows how to feast — a double order of apple strudel — with vanilla sauce… Lonely Mr. M practices generosity and Rudy, a working teenager all on his own in Budapest, gets to enjoy a wonderful Christmas dinner.
For as long as I can remember, my mom prepared food for an extra kid or two around the table, even during the holidays. We celebrate new births, a new year, new jobs, new marriage, old but steady love, finishing old seasons well and beginning new ones. We always partied for even very small things growing up, like a band concert or even just because. My parents are really good at celebrating.
When my great-grandmother died, we went to her funeral. To this day, I compare every funeral I attend to hers — it was so much fun. Great Aunt Marie, living in California, originally from Newfoundland, took thirteen year old me aside and told me how she hated seeing the casket open. She said Grandmother wasn’t really there, and that body was “just a shell.”
In her thick Newfinese, Aunt Marie said that we should be having an Irish funeral — everyone clothed in white with great singing, dancing, eating, and drinking. I wished for that kind of celebrating so badly, and for the rest of the day, everything went wrong (or right, looking back now). The wrong song was played for the special, and Dad found out too late that his grandmother liked Carmen, the opera, not Carman, the Christian musician and evangelist (with albums like Addicted to Jesus and Shaking the House.) After an awkward procession, we all ended up at a local cafeteria. Great Uncle Charles took out his dentures, and he and my little sister made silly faces at each other (I still don’t know who took those pictures.) We celebrated Grandmother’s life and enjoyed just being together as a family. All together from east and west coasts… many of the relatives I met that day I haven’t seen or spoken to since.
While writing the last paragraph, my little brother Matt told me and mom with a straight face: “If you don’t have alcohol at my funeral, I’m gonna come back and haunt every one of you.”
The only thing that can ruin a good feast is a good haunting — whether it’s a bit of undigested beef and broth, the leftover pieces of a broken relationship, or ordinary spirits of strife revealing their horrible faces.
Oh, the haunting. What better story of regret, redemption, goodwill toward men and delightful feasting than Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. I love George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge (from 1984). He first terrified me as General Patton (1970), and Scott’s Scrooge has coldness and chutzpah that chills you to the bone — he’s the best Mr. Scrooge that ever was.
First visited by Christmas Past and Christmas Present, old Scrooge is visited at last by the future, or Christmas-yet-to-come, consistently represented in film by a tall, black robed figure with boney, spindly fingers. After a series of chilling encounters describing how Scrooge will die alone and unloved, he leans over a grave — wiping away the snow to reveal his own name chiseled into the stone. George C. Scott trembles and cries out imploringly to the specter:
“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!”
The future can be re-written, as Scrooge soon learned. A new life can begin with ordering the biggest goose the market has ever seen and sending it anonymously to the very person who least expects it. Bob Cratchitt and his family knew how to feast even with very little, and a bigger bird only increased their delight. Scrooge does something he adamantly refused to do and visits his nephew Fred, apologizing for his horrible attitude the day before (and for avoiding him every day before then). If I learn anything from Charles Dickens, it is to keep inviting, keep feasting, and keep celebrating. Someday, the person you care about who keeps turning you down might just change their mind.
Happy New Year to you, friend. And happy feasting!