Earlier this week I wrote about my decision not to weigh-in this week because I wanted my Holiday to be about my family and friends, and not about points. Part of the reason I made that decision is that I knew what was in store for Christmas Eve. I knew that the dinner that was planned wasn’t going to be diet-friendly, and I didn’t want my weight loss and Journey toward better health to get in the way of family tradition. This morning I want to share that meal’s menu with you, and the special story that goes with it.
The year is often debated among my children as to when this actually started. I remember that my older son was in the 5 to 7 year old range, so that would make it sometime between 1988 and 1991. I am fairly certain my youngest wasn’t born yet, so that narrows it down to about 1989 or 1990. That year, like all the years in that era of our lives, we would prepare to go out of town for Christmas Eve. The tradition of the time was that we would go to my wife’s parents’ house for Christmas Eve dinner and a gift exchange. We would then stay with my mom overnight and have our Christmas morning with her. Later that day my family would gather for our annual party. It was a whirlwind time. We would have to pack all of our gifts to one another with us into our minivan for the trip. In addition, we would bring appetizers or other things to pass.
For that particular year, my wife was going to be bringing pigs in a blanket to one of the parties. For us, pigs in a blanket are the mini, cocktail hot dogs wrapped in crescent roll dough. They are a super yummy treat that’s been going with us to parties for decades.
As Christmas Eve approached, some of us started feeling under the weather. When the day arrived, my son, wife and younger daughter were all in the depths of the flu. When we got up that morning we still had hope that we could make the trip, but that hope evaporated by the early afternoon. It was obvious that we’d not be traveling for a few days. Since moving away from our childhood homes, this was to be the first Christmas that my wife and I wouldn’t be going back. We were heartbroken and sad, in addition to 3 of us being ill.
My oldest daughter and I were the only two who didn’t have the flu (don’t worry, we got it a week later). She and dressed and went to Christmas Mass together. While we were gone, my wife had to figure out what to make for dinner. Because we were going to be gone, we hadn’t planned a meal for our house for that night, so she was going to have to make do with whatever was around. When I came home, my wife was in tears, and told me this story that created our family’s closely held Christmas Eve meal tradition.
My wife looked in the pantry and pulled out a couple of boxes of macaroni and cheese. She had the pigs in a blanket fixings that weren’t going to be used at the party, so she assembled those to go along with the mac and cheese. As she was putting it together, she was sad. My son came into the kitchen and saw the food being prepared. He said to her “look mommy, the macaroni and cheese is like the straw in the manger, and the pigs in a blanket are like Baby Jesus wrapped in the swaddling clothes.”
He was not feeling well, but that didn’t dampen his spirit of the season. His words touched my wife’s heart, and mine when I got home. That night we had a meal of Baby Jesus in swaddling clothes on a bed of straw. It was no longer just an impromptu dinner, it was an instant tradition.
In the years since we have had that dinner on Christmas Eve every year. We have added what we loving refer to as cow pies (mini bagels with sausage and melted cheese on top). The cow pies, along with the macaroni and cheese and pigs in a blanket are the center piece of our meal.
We have also added in some other vegetables, and healthy items, but they are side dishes at best.
Last night, 8 of us sat together and passed around the cow pies, bowls of macaroni and cheese, and plates full of pigs in a blanket. We laughed and had a feast. That meal was not Weight Watchers friendly, and if I were weighing in this week it would not contribute to a loss, but I don’t care. What was important last night, and will be important today, is that I spend the time with my family, and I do so with a light heart.
Many of us struggle with food. I know that every day presents an endless set of decisions about what to eat, when to eat it, and what effect it will have on my weight and overall health. If I had my Christmas Eve dinner every day, I’d soon be back to 345 pounds as I was last year. But, I don’t have that everyday, and the sanctity of family tradition puts my healthy eating in the back seat for one special night.
Today we are off to visit family out of town. Over the next 3 days there will be more Holiday food available. Some of it I will indulge in, in the name of tradition. Other items I will pass by in the name of better health. But what is most important is that I’ll be spending time with people I love, in a festive and joyous atmosphere.
Next week I will be firmly back on track, working toward my goals. Today I am celebrating, and you should too!