By Kristen Davis
The first lesson in the restaurant business: Weekends and holidays are for chumps. It’s a guarantee that Friday night, when the world is celebrating the weekend, you’ll be working. Mother’s Day, working. Easter, working. Christmas? It’s not fair, but that’s the job, and the sooner you let go of your beloved holidays the less disappointed you’ll be when another can’t-be-missed celebration comes around—and you miss it.
I had an easier time letting go of the holidays, because I set off to travel the world when I was 19. As a chef, often working at remote island resorts, there’s no time for the holidays. Besides, it’s hard to get into ye olde Christmas spirit when you’re sweating it up in 90° tropical heat.
My third Christmas in Thailand, I was single, sad, and missing home. The closest thing to Christmas dinner I could find was a McDonald’s cheeseburger. I snagged a rather suspect bottle of Sauvignon Blanc that looked more like a rosé and tasted like cider vinegar. I sat on the beach and ate my burger and fries while washing away my tears with a bottle of questionable life choices. The bottle was done by noon and so was I.
Some years the holidays were more joyous than that one, but the traditions I’d grown up with had long been forgotten. Christmas dinner was more likely to be a barbecue and game of beach volleyball than presents under the tree. These days, paradise is just a daydream and the start of another chilly New England winter brings the promise of the holidays. I have a young son now, so I’ve started a few new traditions to share with my family.
The First: Close the restaurant on Thanksgiving and Christmas. For a restaurant owner, there are never enough days off, so I’ll take this excuse and leave the business to the Chinese delivery joint down the street.
The Second: We MAKE Christmas magical. But I spent a decade with all of my worldly possessions strapped to my back, so walking into a store and paying for Christmas really isn’t my style. We make our decorations, presents, and traditions. Each year the family strolls around the neighborhood foraging for materials: twigs and branches, holly snipped from a neighbor’s yard, a few dried flowers and leaves. After a trip to the grocery store for some popcorn, oranges, cinnamon sticks, and other aromatics, it’s time to decorate the tree. Armed with a hot glue gun and delectable bottle of red wine for the grownups, we laugh and sing as we craft our ornaments. We dehydrate orange wheels; bake simple, indestructible gingerbread cookies (cinnamon, water, and seasonal spices); glue popcorn kernels to sparkly gold ribbon, and tie cinnamon sticks alongside twigs and berries to create a tree that is truly magical.
The Third: The holidays are all about the food … I mean family. Let’s face it, chefs are really in it for the food. I’m not RSVPing to Thanksgiving dinner to see my second cousins, I’m coming for my second helping of turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing, and pie. Oh, pie. The best part of the holidays is eating food we don’t have to cook. Feast of the Seven Fishes? Make it 11 and you can guarantee I’ll be back next year.
As my family grows, we add new traditions and borrow some from my wild adventures. Maybe next year we’ll break out the water balloons to ring in the New Year.
Kristen Davis is an award-winning chef, international restaurateur, and entrepreneur. Her current project, The Platinum Pony, in Easthampton, showcases her craft cocktails, creative snacks, and eclectic nightly entertainment. For more info visit ThePlatinumPony.com or find them on Facebook here.