The words "carrot meatballs" might not exactly make your mouth water, especially not when you've glimpsed the roasted carrots cooling on top of the stove, looking like wrinkled orange turds. But, let me assure you, they are delicious!
I know this because my sister made them for Christmas Eve dinner last night, and they totally defied expectation, which was such a sweet relief, because:
In my family, Christmas Eve is the most torturous day of the year.
Not because of the anticipation of the following day and the oodles of food to be made and the dozens of relatives to host; but because it is the day that we, the immediate family, retire at 10am to our separate corners of the house and proceed to mine our hearts for words that can express how we feel about each other.
This is the process of "writing your Christmas letter;" and as though this isn't painful enough, we then have to read what we've written out loud to each other after dinner, once the plates have been cleared, in ascending order of age (parents too).
This is the 20th year we've been doing this, and it never gets easier.
Words, usually my friends, become horribly clumsy and inadequate. The day is characterized by lots of groaning and commiseration and meandering into the kitchen to eat even though you're not hungry; just because your brain hurts and craves distraction.
Page counts are compared and peer pressure applied to keep them in check. Usually, around 2 or 3pm, the first glass of Jameson's appears. Whoever finishes first, ceremoniously tossing their envelope onto the dinner table in victory, becomes the instant recipient of everyone else's evil eye and shameless resentment.
The whole day is agony, and usually I am the one to be found printing mine off as everyone else is already seated in front of steaming plates of food. Historically there is no time for me to help with dinner or even to shower; I am eternally grateful that formal dress is not one of the requirements.
The only requirement is that on this day, we must all peel back our armor and show our soft bellies and speak from our hearts.
And, as dreadful as the writing process is; nothing compares to those fleeting moments when we get to look around the table, and really see each other.
There is something exhaustingly beautiful about laboring all day to create something meaningful; watching it issue forth from your mouth in a matter of moments; immediately making way for another loved one's creation; and then committing all the works to a box along with all the others, where they will sit untouched indefinitely. So much painstaking care, for an event that is over in minutes.
And then -- once we're all in tears -- come the presents!
As you can imagine, it is an emotionally draining day, which is why it inspires absolute dread all year long. Really, it's obscene to be made to feel so many feelings!
But without fail, it reframes everything in the context of profound gratitude and good fortune, which isn't a bad way to end the year. And I'm totally going to make my kids do it one day -- if only to watch them squirm.
Whatever your traditions are -- I hope this week brings you joy, perspective, warmth, and togetherness.