A few weeks ago I received this email from a certain veganfied, yoga-doin’, sweet-singin’ goddess I know:
hey, got any drink suggestions for a major american holiday that a lot of people spend with stress-inducing parents?
Funny you should ask…
So, You’re Going Home for the Holidays
Whether you go home or invite the fam to your place, winter holiday time usually means a lot of exposure to people you probably don’t see regularly, all tightly packed into hot living rooms that are thick with the goodly smells of spiced pie, turkey, whiskey, and the bittery-sweet tang of your own anxious sweat.
Why is it stressful to be around family?
I’ve spent quite a bit of time contemplating this question. Too much, perhaps, because it’s opened a whole new divergence of questions regarding the psychology of drinking itself, that of interacting with family, and subsequently, drinking in order to better interact with family. And don’t even get me started on how we drink differently for different company. Maybe it’s the hallucinogens talking, but if I head off on that tangent I may never come back. The problem is, you can’t answer any one of these questions on its own, so I’ve decided to do the Christmas segment in….well, segments.
We’re going to start this conversation with my own cherished Christmas recollections and nostalgia.
This is What We Call “The Bar”, People. No Raising Necessary. Unless It’s for a Toast.
This year I will be spending the holidays with mom’s side of the family. This is the branch of my family tree that produces the most frequent gatherings in addition to the loudest and greatest profusion of aunts, uncles, cousins, and extended family. The greatest thing about holidays with mom’s side is that everyone seems to be able to put away their differences – really and truly – and no one fights for one rare three-day time span. It’s that totally surreal Rockwellian Christmas scene from the 50’s in which everyone is smiling, ruddy cheeked, and welcoming a 30-pound turkey to the bosom of an overstuffed yuletide table. There’s always a real tree, heavily lit with real lights (non of this LED bullshit, nossir – my peeps roll straight-up fire hazard up in the exmiss hizzy) each ornament calling to mind Christmas memories stretching back as far as four or five generations. And, thank god, nearly everyone is drinking. Heavily.
Alcohol might be the single best reason why a family of such mixed sensibilities (from artist to stock broker, entrepreneur to slacker) is able to keep a strangle-hold on that twinkly sense of Christmas cheer right up until the last guest has departed. From the moment my grandpeople’s door swings open, spilling gold out into the blue twilight and beckoning with fragrant warmth and the voices of many from within, a cocktail pressed solidly into one of your palms by an unidentified family member even while you’re still in the midst of removing your coat and being suffocated with hugs; from that very moment, you are swept away.
Alcohol is your immediate and abiding companion for the duration, and you have a free ticket to jump on the Christmas train, where emancipation from grown-up worries allows one to give oneself over to the childlike wonder at shivering tinsel and frosted swags of evergreen and scotch in faceted glass decanters all softly sparkling as they catch on the candlelight, and to revel in holiday drunkenness and horrendously ugly bedazzled sweaters.
I want to take this time to talk about one of the underrated members of my family when it comes to the smooth inner workings of Mom’s Side Family Christmas: Granddad. Without Granddad, we would not drink with such abandon. We, perhaps, would find ourselves restricting our intake so as to be polite company.
Grandad gets the atmosphere warmed up for us. He is a superlative host, sacrificing his own sobriety first so that all who follow may do so unabashedly. He’s also a relentless pusher of cocktails. There is generally a point soon after arrival that even the most patient and well-intentioned guest will give in to his pressure rather than be asked, “Where’s your drink?” or “What are you drinking?” which is just another way Grandad asks where your drink is, because otherwise he doesn’t give a damn what you’re sucking on so long as you’re actively nursing something that smells of gin or whiskey, or is clearly a beer or glass of wine. No ambiguity permitted. You won’t get away with drinking a soda and pretending it’s spiked. Grandaddy can smell your bullshit and the absence of booze on your breath from a mile away.
In all seriousness, people can say what they want about Grandad’s drinking, but his alcohol-driven approach to family gatherings is one of the reasons our holidays are so pleasurable. When it comes to hosing down a group of people with a bucket of social lubricant so we can all slip together into a package of gooey, loving feelings and forgiveness, Grandad is a pro. Please understand that I truly say these things about my grandfather without the slightest hint of disapproval. Yes, say what you want, but his method is brilliantly effective.
Excessive drinking and twinkle lights and gingerbread and family equal Christmas being the best holiday of the year.
Spirits of the Season
Hot Buttered Rum
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
- Pinch ground cloves
- Pinch salt
- Dark rum – we like The Kraken
- Boiling water
In a bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt. Refrigerate until somewhat firm. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the butter mixture into your mug. Pour about 3 ounces of rum into the mug (filling about halfway). Fill the rest of the cup with boiling water, stir, serve and drink immediately. Repeat often and enjoy warm glow. Makes about 12 servings.