Contest #178 shortlist ⭐️

Round the World at the Holidays

Submitted into Contest #178 in response to: Write a story about an unconventional holiday tradition.... view prompt

93 comments

Creative Nonfiction Contemporary Christmas

Today is the Friday before Christmas. This would normally be relevant news to at least one of us, because I have Fridays off and I’d have the time to shop for traditional Christmas dinner – you know: ham and turkey, side dishes, pie, the works. I may be a little late to the scene on that, but if you put off something long enough, you avoid the rush of the better-prepared, is my motto. 


Only, it snowed last night, and I can’t get out of the driveway now. The door of my car is frozen shut, even. Good grief… I don’t have a motto for this! We almost never even get snow where I live, and so there is no local capital investment in snow plows, snow melter and the like. This lack of shopping capability presents a Mom-Level Opportunity for me, though, and I know we are both about to have a ton of fun trying to come up with a solution.


I phone my Mom. 



To go back into personal history for just a moment: when my brother, sister and I were growing up, Dad was of the prepper mentality: he subscribed to Soldier of Fortune magazine, designed all sorts of drawings for bug-out cabins, drafted plans for personal munitions and defense devices. He really lived in his head with his passion, though, and nothing practical came of it.


On the other hand, Mom was the actual prepper: she gardened, canned, kept a deep larder, and was constantly adding to her skills and knowledge of things such as herbalism, handicrafts, and first aid. Mom was also a frugalist, which showed in her passions and household management.


Both of my parents were also intent on keeping our minds expanded to a world far outside of our (bomb shelter’s) walls, so they introduced us to extensive literature and contemporary news; they also came up with the idea of The Round The World Restaurant, which would feature cuisine and entertainment from a different country every night of the week. This was the big dream of their lives; unfortunately, they could never afford to execute that plan, but we did come close to it with our holiday dinners, which were never once the routine turkey and ham.


“Hello?” She inquires. She’s in the kitchen with her great-grands, baking some cookies for dinner later that night. At 77, that woman never slows down. I resolve to make it fast.




Like so many of this or any era, we didn’t think we had a lot growing up, but like most Moms, ours was no exception in going out of her way to make sure holidays were memorable despite an excess of gifts. Every year for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, we’d traipse down to our local library to pick out what culture we wanted to learn about – and that meant she was cooking their food, too! Mom was an excellent and inventive cook who could bring her frugality skills to bear, so the results were always incredible.


For instance, one year I remember in particular was when we picked Vietnam for Thanksgiving. Many of the books were Not For Children, and Mom had a hard time making the old librarian understand that we were looking for something more akin to travel guides than war accounts. 


Finally, she found books with photos of the land and its people, and we children fought over those while Mom went and looked for a cookbook or two, which she brought home in order to plan our corresponding feast.


When our dinner times for the holidays came around, we three kids would put on a little info skit about the chosen culture to entertain Mom and Dad, and Mom in turn would tell us all about the dishes we were enjoying. That year, for example, we talked about the largest cave in the world, which is in Vietnam, and about water puppetry -- an ancient theater -- and how there are kitchen gods that are treated like family members. For dinner, we were eating foods that were specifically inspired by Southern Vietnamese cuisine, which made them more closely-linked to Thai foods, and thus spicier than Northern Vietnamese cuisine. I don’t know why that part sticks out to me so well, even to this day. The foods themselves were incredible, such a taste explosion of so many delicious and unusual flavors. We had spring (salad) rolls and sizzling pancakes, which I remember best; there were more dishes, but the only other thing I remember the without even trying was the coffee. We almost never got to have that at all, and it was delicious: so thick, sweet and creamy!


Anyway, you get the idea, about our little annual celebrations – in a word: memorable. In fact, I’d have to say that Vietnamese Thanksgiving was probably my favorite holiday we ever did, followed closely by Japanese Christmas. I liked the European holiday meals well enough (especially German!), but – culturally speaking – Asian and African food just seemed more appealingly exotic, to my young mind. In fact, to this day, I will not pass up a spicy peanut stew if it is on the menu, YUM!


Dad even tried his hand at doing the meals a couple of times: one year, and he never would tell us what country it was supposed to have been from, he invented a Curried Tuna Casserole in the practice run-up to the actual holiday. To this day, my stomach goes a little tricky around curry, and that was his last attempt to help with the creative dining portion of the holiday. 


Granted, the holidays weren’t all about the food, but nostalgia and a current snow crisis are shortening this tale in the interest of a smoother flow. I still remember the numerous cat islands of Japan, and the ancient and mystical feeling I got when we read about Persia and Zoroastrianism, among other cultural wonders of the world.




So here I am now, returning to my roots: “What culture can I make for this Christmas dinner?” I ask her, poised for the inevitable, “Well, whatcha got?!”. Her prepper persona rubbed off on me a bit, so I have quite a deep pantry full of canned and boxed goods, plus of course a handful of fresh things in the fridge. 


After chatting for a while, including some particularly fun remembrances of holiday celebrations past, she helps me come up with the perfect fit: Spam, macaroni, mayo, rice, cabbage, soy sauce, and even some canned pineapple? We can work with that. It may not be haute cuisine, but we’ll pull a little bit of a faux Hawaiian plate dinner “with a lick and a promise” to do better once the roads are clear.


According to my once-library-trip-now-turned-Google: "Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hau'oli Makahiki Hou!"

December 23, 2022 19:30

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93 comments

Delbert Griffith
23:43 Dec 29, 2022

Jeez, Wendy. I felt like I was sitting by the fireplace with a glass of wine and having a nice chat with an old friend. This story was incredibly warm and comforting and personal without being uncomfortable. That's a neat trick, my friend. If you ever decide to write your memoirs, go back and read this story; it' s a surefire blueprint for such writing. Masterful, Wendy. Masterful.

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Wendy Kaminski
23:45 Dec 29, 2022

Thank you, Delbert - I have the blush like I have been having a fireside drink, now! :)

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Sharon Catlett
23:15 Dec 29, 2022

Like many others have said - it was like having a friend share her crazy Christmas stories and wishing you were invited! You really TALK to a reader and make them comfortable. No exclusive club, just an interesting person sharing. Really fun to read and still smiling about it. :)

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Wendy Kaminski
23:21 Dec 29, 2022

Thank you so much, Sharon! I really appreciate you reading and also appreciate the very kind comments! :)

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Ksenija Rubež
17:07 Dec 29, 2022

I am amazed (and also kinda jealous) at how well you packed up so many cultural traditions within one short story, including even Zoroastrianism! Keep it up!

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Wendy Kaminski
19:57 Dec 29, 2022

Thank you so much! I really appreciate your very kind and encouraging comments! :)

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Graham Kinross
23:16 Dec 24, 2022

I admire the do it yourself spirit of prepers, if not the stereotypical need for guns and belief that lefty woke culture will be the end of society. It’s hard not to imagine that society might be on the edge, even though it’s probably as stable as it’s ever been and is just more easily dug into with constant news feeds and camera phones showing us the horror from everywhere in the world. My mum tells horror stories about spam, my dad as well. She says even the mention of it gave her dad PTSD.

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Wendy Kaminski
01:21 Dec 25, 2022

Well, to be fair, this was back in the height of the Cold War, where it felt like nuclear annihilation was a reality at any moment. :) Spam nightmares? I wonder if I should put a trigger warning on that one. =/

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Graham Kinross
08:01 Dec 25, 2022

I think my grandad ate spam while he was in active service. He had a lot of hallucinations about spies and WW2 towards the end. He was around during the formation of Mossad. Never talked about it though.

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Graham Kinross
08:02 Dec 25, 2022

Strange that we feel further from nuclear war now, when Trump, Putin and Kim have been threatening it recently.

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Wendy Kaminski
14:36 Dec 25, 2022

You're right, it does!

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Martin Ross
05:03 Dec 29, 2022

I hate it when my phone ID advertises Potential Spam and I find out there isn’t even a chance it’ll happen.

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Kevin V
01:36 Mar 07, 2023

Hi Wendy, Since you mentioned about being shortlisted twice, I decided to hunt one down. I don't know how much, if any, truth is in this; but it has the feel of it, and it is so wonderfully presented and heartwarming. The flashbacks especially set us up for a great ending. I can't say enough how much I enjoy your stories. I saw you mention on Laurel's how you 'creep' her. I creep both of you to be honest. There is so much I can take away from them! As always, thank you!

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Wendy Kaminski
01:45 Mar 07, 2023

Oh my gosh, thank you so much, KV! :) What a lovely surprise to log into - I'm glad you liked it! The only untrue thing in the story is the Vietnamese cave: it's true that it exists, but we didn't know that, 40 years ago ... that was only discovered last year. I couldn't remember everything we discussed about Vietnam, so I substituted that since it was kinda cool. :) Thank you again!

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Richard E. Gower
23:41 Feb 16, 2023

Hello Wendy. Frugal parents with creative minds, what a terrific legacy. I sense some solid life-experience underpinning this piece, combined with a natural facility for wordcraft. Congratulations and well done! As for the Christmas menu: Spam, macaroni, mayo, rice, cabbage, soy sauce, and canned pineapple (hopefully rings or chunks)......I can easily see that working for a one-dish holiday stir-fry. The key to success in the kitchen is flexibility and a family (or guests) with no real or imagined allergies, and open minds. -:) RG

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Wendy Kaminski
23:43 Feb 16, 2023

Thank you, Richard! That probably could work that way, but the way we actually did it was "Hawaiian lunch plate" style, which is where you have a side of rice, a side of macaroni+mayo salad (it's better than it sounds!), a little fried spam, a side of shredded cabbage so you can pretend you eat vegetables, and then some pineapple for dessert. I'm not doing it justice vs. the real thing, if you've never had it: it's delicious! :) Appreciate your kind comment. :)

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Richard E. Gower
00:26 Feb 17, 2023

Hawaiian lunch plate, hmmn....well, why not? As for cabbage, an under-rated nosh that ranks up there with the humble parsnip for a profound culinary experience (hey, vegetables need friends too..) Like I said, flexibility and an open mind.-:) Cheers! RG

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Bralyn Taylor
19:16 Feb 09, 2023

I used your story as a school assignment, because I liked it. :)

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Wendy Kaminski
19:47 Feb 09, 2023

I don’t mind as long as you gave me credit. :-) Glad you liked it.

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Bralyn Taylor
14:04 Feb 10, 2023

i did give credit <:)>

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Wendy Kaminski
14:22 Feb 10, 2023

Thanks, appreciate that! :) Good luck with the assignment!

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Stevie Burges
10:12 Jan 31, 2023

As a pretty useless cook myself, I would have loved to have been invited - as long as I didn't have to shop and cook. As someone who has lived in Asia for the last 16 years, Xmas has always been something quite different - but always bought in a cafe. I loved the story and felt I was at the table with you all - and glad dad only tried once to produce the meal. Loved it, and great that it got shortlisted. Well done.

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Wendy Kaminski
14:47 Jan 31, 2023

Thank you, Stevie! :) I bet your last 16 years are some interesting stories in and of themselves!

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Kasey Fisher
16:39 Jan 16, 2023

I wanted to jump in this story and hang out with your characters!!! Congrats on the short list!!

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Wendy Kaminski
16:40 Jan 16, 2023

Thanks so much, Kasey! I really appreciate your kind words! :) I sent this to Mom, and now she wants to collaborate on a book to showcase our tradition, so that'll be a lot of fun!

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D.J. Bogner
19:14 Jan 13, 2023

A lot of fun, Wendy! Really inventive, both for the characters (real, or unreal?) and for a narrative! I love how you didn't info-dump us at the start, with all we (didn't) need to know about the who and the where—including even the narrator's name! I love it! I laughed out loud when you said: "Mom-level opp…" and in the next line, in its own paragraph: "I phone my Mom." (tiny technicality: mom is only capitalized when you use it in place of a person's name; here you used it as a common noun. If you had left out the "my"—then yes, cap the...

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Wendy Kaminski
19:24 Jan 13, 2023

D.J., thank you so much for this great and helpful review! Will make note of the Mom thing; I think I knew that, embarrassingly enough. :) I definitely need to brush up on my quote marks + punctuation combos, because that one was one that I really was unsure regarding. (But I didn't use "unsure about," just now...! :) I really appreciate your very helpful input on this - thank you again!

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Philip Ebuluofor
14:10 Jan 10, 2023

Congrats.

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Wendy Kaminski
14:13 Jan 10, 2023

Thank you, Philip! :)

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Philip Ebuluofor
14:31 Jan 10, 2023

Welcome.

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Story Time
17:51 Jan 09, 2023

Congratulations Wendy! The story radiated a lot of warmth without being overly sentimental, which is always a challenge. It was like a great Truman Capote short story in the way it focused on the setting and let the reader settle into it.

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Wendy Kaminski
18:01 Jan 09, 2023

Thanks so much for the congratulations and kind words, Kevin! Appreciate it so much! :)

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Amanda Lieser
14:02 Jan 09, 2023

Hi Wendy, Congratulations on the shortlist! This piece certainly deserved it. I loved the way you started it all out with good old fashioned, mother natured induced, holiday stress. As a native to Colorado, I feel I always have to plan my holiday hopes around a possible white Christmas. I loved how endearing these characters were and I loved the vivid descriptions of such delicious food. I think we often taken for granted how worldly our plates have become over the years. Nice job!

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Wendy Kaminski
14:53 Jan 09, 2023

Thank you so much, Amanda! I really appreciate you taking the time to leave such a kind comment! :)

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Sav Lightwood
09:28 Jan 07, 2023

This story feels so true to life... and if so, that is a positively adorable family tradition and am a little envious about it >:) Big fan of the cozy, down-to-earth vibe you have going on here and congrats on the shortlist!

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Wendy Kaminski
16:28 Jan 07, 2023

Thank you so much, for the congrats and nice review! Yes, this is true - we did this, and it was as much fun as it seems. :) I highly recommend it!

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Liv Chocolate
06:35 Jan 07, 2023

OMG congrats Wendy! What a great way to start the new year!!!

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Wendy Kaminski
16:27 Jan 07, 2023

Thanks so much Liv!! :)

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Wally Schmidt
06:30 Jan 07, 2023

Hoʻomaikaʻi Wendy and thanks for saving us a trip to the airport with your culinary trip around the world!

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Wendy Kaminski
16:27 Jan 07, 2023

haha Thanks, Wally - appreciate you reading and commenting! :)

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J. Nicholas
06:08 Jan 07, 2023

Nice memoir-type piece with a clean plot: a woman stranded in a winter storm benefits from her mother’s rational prepping and culinary adventurism to salvage Christmas dinner, even if it wasn’t perfect. I thought the descriptions were well done and enhanced the story’s pace. Thank you for sharing this personal story with us.

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Wendy Kaminski
16:27 Jan 07, 2023

Thank you very much for reading and for the encouraging review! :)

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Tommy Goround
23:53 Jan 06, 2023

Boom. (There it is.)

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Wendy Kaminski
16:58 Jan 07, 2023

:)

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Delbert Griffith
19:17 Jan 06, 2023

Shortlisted! Congrats, kudos, and hosannahs! Well-deserved, Wendy!

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Wendy Kaminski
19:19 Jan 06, 2023

Thanks, Delbert! :)

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Mary Lehnert
18:18 Jan 06, 2023

Lovely story. Wendy Genuine and true. Congrats on the shortlist. Mary

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Wendy Kaminski
18:19 Jan 06, 2023

Thanks very much, Mary! :)

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