Ever since I can remember, my mother has thrown a lovely Christmas Eve dinner party. It’s a dressed-up affair that begins right after Christmas Eve Mass with shrimp cocktail, stuffed mushrooms, and oyster stew, and ends—after huge platters of lasagna are served and enjoyed—with dessert (vanilla ice cream for the kids and a Grasshopper for the adults). One particularly merry eve when I was around ten, the dinner plates were cleared and my mom unveiled something new she had spent the afternoon making—a beautiful blueberry cream cheese tart with a crumbly, homemade pecan crust.
My dear mother. It was obvious within the first few bites that the crust was severely burnt. The guests were having trouble chewing and swallowing, though everyone—friends and family alike—was too polite to mention it, instead carrying on pleasant conversation while reaching for their water glass.
Our parish priest, still in his collar, was seated at our table and he ventured to use the side of his fork to casually (but determinedly) cut his next polite bite. Before we knew it, a quarter-size piece of burnt pecan crumble crust shot across the table like a bullet and landed on my grandmother’s plate.
All eyes quickly turned to my mother to measure her response. To everyone’s relief, she broke out in raucous laughter and we all followed suit, howling until we had tears in our eyes. The niceties were over; the crust was a flop. But the dinner party? Still fabulous.
Of course, this is not exactly how my mother had hoped her tart would turn out that year. It’s also probably not the one moment out of three decades of beautifully prepared Christmas Eve dinners that she would hope to have been crystallized in my mind forever, but it is. I treasure this memory because it highlights the joy found in imperfection. My mother is a gifted hostess whom I admire immensely. However, on that Christmas Eve in the late eighties, her piecrust was not perfect.
The holidays are so often fraught with anxiety and expectation. We worry about everything from money to menus to being face-to-face with the pain of fractured relationships. We struggle to provide magic for those around us and we stress over creating long-lasting memories with every move we make. If only we would let go of some of those long-held expectations and loosen our grip on the quest for perfection. In doing so, we might welcome a better season, one during which we are free to enjoy the depth of relationships and the promise of joy without the heavy weight of flawlessness.