It's Christmas Eve, and I just finished spending a long night with my family. We did the usual stuff—got dressed up, went to church, ate a big dinner and some holiday cookies, played games, opened our first gifts. It was an average American Christmas in that sense.
But one thing about the night made me feel a little better about our society's normally extreme attitude about the way we eat.
My aunt brought several decadent appetizers including an amazing pepper jelly, which she served over cream cheese with Ritz crackers. Let me repeat that . . . served OVER CREAM CHEESE WITH RITZ CRACKERS.
When she first got it out, we all thought it was too rich and heavy for us to finish before dinner, but as it turned out, we sat around the coffee table noshing on it until there was nothing left but a few smears of orange jelly around the outside of the plate.
It was that good.
And when I said something about how I probably shouldn't be eating so much, my normally disciplined aunt said, "Who cares? It's Christmas."
I had expected someone to agree with me—especially since both my aunt and my sister are exercise nuts and very thin—but instead my aunt reinforced what I already believed: that sometimes we just have to let ourselves go.
And it hit me while we were scraping the serving plate clean that holidays are the one time Americans allow themselves to eat what we want. Whether it's Christmas or the 4th of July, we let ourselves give into our most indulgent cravings on special occasions and for at least a short time don't think about how they will affect our waist size or the number on the scale, something Americans almost never do the rest of the year.
Despite all the warnings about gaining weight over the holidays, I'm a firm believer in the importance of indulgence, as I've discussed before. Yes, on average people gain up to a pound during the holidays and those pounds add up as time goes on if they are not lost later in the year, but I believe that if we allowed ourselves to indulge all year—and not just during the holidays—we would have less desire to do so on the big days and would be able to do so in moderation. I know it may sound like an oxymoron to promote moderate indulgence, but I do think it's possible. Because I believe if we allow ourselves decadent foods throughout the year, we are less likely to go completely overboard with them during the holidays.
So, on the one hand, I'm thrilled that Americans let themselves go a little bit over the holidays and consider it a welcome change from the country's obsession with dieting that monopolizes the rest of the year, but on the other hand, I wish we would all learn to give ourselves more latitude all year long rather than just a few days a year.