Heavy holidays

I used to love everything about the sensory explosion that occurs this time of year – crisp air burning my cheeks, distant hills ablaze with color, fragrances of harvest with a promise of an impending winter carried on the wind, children laughing, cinnamon, nutmeg, turkey, cranberries, pumpkin… part of me is filled with nostalgia and hope just writing about it.

But as holiday season after holiday season left me a legacy of additional pounds to complement my memories, my favorite time of the year has morphed into something I face with the grim resignation that I will likely succumb to temptation.

Delicious treats and holiday favorite foods are everywhere we turn this time of year. Everyone wants to gather around big tables filled with families, friends, and food. Throughout civilization, food and festivity have melded together during times of celebration. Food is almost synonymous with holidays. The atmosphere is ripe for overindulgence.

I actually think it starts with Halloween. Those of us with kids send them out in cute costumes to bring home hoards of pilferage. Secretly, I always sneak a few as I’m sorting them out later. I’ll tell my children, “Yeah, this one looks like it might be damaged. Guess I’ll take this one – for your safety, of course.” It’s shameful, I know. I’m embarrassed writing about it, but it’s true.

A few weeks later, as I’m staring down the barrel of the impending Thanksgiving meal, the only holiday literally centered on food, my resolve is always already dissolved.

My family gathers, usually in New York at my brother’s place, and indulges in all of my favorite treats from my childhood. Each scent, each sound, each flavor harbors a memory of a youthful, carefree time in my life. We laugh, we love, we pray, and we eat – and oh, do we eat. Mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, turkey, that yummy green bean casserole my mom makes, cranberry sauce, corn, peas, candied yams, breads, pies, fudge, cheese, olives, fruit, salads, more pies – and then, when all of that is done, we come to my favorite part of the meal.

Leftovers.

December is party season in my group of friends. Everyone wants to host a small get-together complete with festive beverages like calorie-laden eggnog, or syrupy peppermint schnapps, and lots of tasty party foods like Swedish meatballs, sweet and sour wieners, shrimp cocktail, bacon-wrapped scallops (sidebar – have you ever found a food that you can’t improve by wrapping in bacon?) and mini-pastries. There’s something that happens in my brain when I’m faced with a table of mini foods. First, my brain consents to trying one of everything because, after all, everything is so small, it must be alright. But then, my brain consents trying one of everything again, because, after all, everything is so small, it must be alright. It’s a flawed sort of logic, but I’ve known for some time now that my brain works in mysterious and illogical ways.

In January, when I look back on two months of big meals, dinner parties, cocktail socials, and work or church potlucks, I can suddenly see with amazing clarity the error of my ways. When the holidays no longer hold me captive, life makes perfect sense again. I can return to viewing food as a fuel for my body rather than associating it with pleasant memories and times long since passed.

And so, in January, I join with the millions of other people in the world who take advantage of the post-holiday do-over. I reaffirm my resolve, and I commit to shedding the holiday weight, and hopefully a few more pounds with it, and I start fresh. It always works for a while too. So far, in 2012, I lost 35 pounds, but the holiday season is just beginning.