Without getting bogged down in marital details or my own spiritual evolution, let's just say that I have experienced, first-hand, pretty much any holiday observance you could take up in the month of December.
All have their upsides and stresses. Even the welcome ecumenism of my family life makes things trickier. My resourceful 78-year-old devout-Catholic mother-in-law has met this challenge by buying up an astonishing cache of dual-religion holiday cards. You have not truly felt the holiday spirit until you get a card featuring a menorah with a Santa cap hanging off of it.
Some things, though, are permanently rooted in the folds of the brain that store Comforting Traditions. (Right behind the lobe controlling Old, Useless Telephone Numbers.) For me, the only unshakeable holiday tradition comes in a yellow box printed to look like a piece of quaint embroidery: The Whitman's Sampler. Take your pick of celebratory viewpoints: Holy birthday, miraculous oil burning days longer than expected, Solstice, Auld Lang Syne, whateverÃ¢'ê¬Â¦.I absolutely, positively must have one of these familiar two-layer boxes of pre-Godiva, non-boutique chocolates.To my parents, the yellow box on our coffee table was tangible proof they'd overcome the skimpy holidays of childhoods past. Hell, times were so good that if their youngest kid (me) wanted to take a bite out of every chocolate in the box, dropping them back in their fluted paper cups until she arrived at one she liked, fine. There was a backup-Sampler in the pantry, for company, in which none of the chocolates had small bites missing.
There has always been a map inside the lid of Whitman's Samplers, useful for avoiding the walnut-filled disappointments and landing right on the butter creams. I've often wondered why other confectioners don't use this wonderful device. Or for that matter, sushi chefs. I can't be the only person who ate that dab of wasabi by accident.
I bought this year's Sampler the other night at a Portland drugstore, brought it home, stripped off the cellophane and lifted the lid. That old familiar smell of chocolate mixed with anticipation wafted up, and the magic worked, again. My miracles may change, but the joy never does.