How To Have A Kick-A** Throwback Holiday

by Christine Burke
Originally Published: 
KabordaM, glade, H. Armstrong Roberts / Getty Images / Christine Burke

As I scrolled through Pinterest, staring at thousands of Thanksgiving recipes, and making a grocery list that felt seven pages long, I thought back to the holidays I had when I was a kid.

Holidays seemed easier back then, without the noise of the internet, Pinterest, and the DIY videos with glue guns and burlap and “easy” holiday recipes with only 43 ingredients.

Sure, my mother probably saw the bottom of too many vodka gimlets as she prepared for my grandparents’ arrival to Thanksgiving dinner, but I sure as hell don’t remember her constructing mini turkeys out of phyllo dough.

No, holidays meant we got the TV trays out for the extra guests and spread a table cloth on our dining room table. My mother would fill the amber-hued glassware she saved for special occasions with ice water and the table would glow from the grocery store candles in my grandmother’s candle holders.

And we got to eat homemade Chex party mix until our bellies ached.

Sometimes, I long for the days when our wood-paneled rec room would be filled with family shouting to hear each other over the Neil Diamond records playing on the giant-ass record player. I miss fruit cakes, the bouffant hairdos my favorite aunts wore, and the sight of my grandfather sitting in a rocking chair, lightly snoozing amidst the holiday fray.

If I were to put on a throwback holiday, I’d need a few staples:

The Aunt Who Brings Ambrosia With Her “Secret” Ingredient

It’s crushing to find out that your aunt’s fancy AF dessert is actually just made with Cool Whip and canned fruit cocktail. But that still doesn’t stop me from shoving truckloads of that heavenly goodness into my mouth every year.

The Kids’ Table

As a kid, I can remember looking at the adults in the dining room and wondering how old I had to be to be allowed to use the fancy china and pretty stemware. My brothers, cousins, and I were relegated to a card table in the kitchen, and we were lucky if we had matching paper plates for our turkey and gravy. Oh, and the table was usually crammed next to a Harvest Gold refrigerator, and the walls had faux bricks (and a large fork and spoon hanging on one).

Charades or Large-Scale Theatrical Productions Starring the Kids

Back when I was a kid, we didn’t have YouTube videos or internet streaming, or frankly, more than three channels of TV to keep us occupied until the pumpkin pie was served. Holiday entertainment came in the form of silly skits we’d perform after dinner while giggling with our cousins and playing games like charades while the adults smoked Pall Malls and sipped port.

Recipes Handwritten on Faded Cards That Never Come Out the Way Your Relatives Made Them

My mother-in-law gifted me a few precious recipe cards with the recipes for their family Christmas cookies. In perfect penmanship, she painstakingly recorded the ingredients for the cookies their family makes every year. When I hold the recipe cards, it’s like she’s in the kitchen with me — even when my cookies come out slightly overdone. Sorry, Grammie, I tried.

Angry Discussions About Nixon and Watergate

Some traditions never die. Just add Trump.

Triscuits With Cheese From a Can

When my mother broke out the squeeze cheese, my 8-year-old self thought it was the height of fancy. I used to beg her to let me be the one who created rosettes of bright orange cheese on America’s favorite cracker. I’d delight in putting my hors d’oeuvres on a fancy tray and serving them to my grandparents as they drank screwdrivers and Cape Codders before dinner.

Blue Nun Wine

Whether it was because German wine seemed fancy or because my Irish Catholic family simply had to invite nuns to dinner, Blue Nun wine was a staple at our Thanksgiving table. With their characteristic blue bottles and happy nun depicted on the label, Blue Nun wine is the ultimate holiday throwback. And yes, my grandfather used to let me sneak sips of his wine from my great-grandmother’s crystal stemware.

Betty Crocker Cookbooks and Julia Child on TV

To this day, when I see the familiar red-and-white checkerboard pattern of a Betty Crocker cookbook, the nostalgia runs deep. The simple, easy-to-follow recipes were the anthem of my childhood holidays. I still mimic Julia Child’s characteristic accent and wit from her show The French Chef when I cook Thanksgiving dinner every year and my dogeared copy of the Joy of Cooking will be by my side until it completely disintegrates. Bon appétit!

Chex Party Mix

Chex Mix is the OG Pinterest recipe. Almost every person I know had a version of Chex Party mix at their holiday celebrations. In fact, my brothers and I would be giddy when we’d see my mother unloading four different Chex cereal boxes into the pantry because we knew that salty goodness was coming to a Tupperware bowl near us very soon. And no fair buying the bagged mix available at the stores today. It’s just not the same.

Jell-O Molds

I mean, as the saying goes, there’s always room for Jell-O. I can remember my mother carefully pouring green Jell-O into our Tupperware mold and tiptoeing across the kitchen to set it in the refrigerator. And when she slid that gelatin beauty onto a bed of lettuce and garnished it with fruit, well, let’s just say there’s nothing prettier than a Jell-O mold centerpiece.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to garnish the cocktail weenies with decorative toothpicks and dust off the crystal punch bowl for the sherbet punch. Has anyone seen where I put the slideshow projector? We are throwin’ it back this year.

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