Why you should never purchase a precooked holiday dinner (unless you know it will, like, actually be good)

With a 6-month old who is teething and family arriving for the rapidly approaching holidays, my husband and I decided that this year would be a really good year to try ordering holiday dinner. A few local grocery stores offer the purchase of a complete holiday meal including a cooked ham or turkey and an array of sides—including a pie! Can’t beat that, right? Since we were having seven adults for dinner, we figured we would order a turkey dinner and a ham dinner. Since each fed 4-6, we assumed that in holiday math that meant it would feed more like 3-4.

So after putting the baby to bed one night, instead of going to bed like we should have done and instead of ordering dinner weeks ago like we should have done, we pulled up the website and prepared to order dinner. The ham dinner was sold out. The turkey dinner was now not available until January 1. Good gravy—pardon the pun.

So we went to our backup store’s website—the turkey dinner was still available. Thank God. The food might be a little subpar but fuck it, it’s free food so everyone can be grateful, right? We placed our order, agreed to make one extra side to feed the masses, and went to bed to un-blissfully sleep with a wakeful baby.

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Christmas Eve day arrived faster than we expected. Since I had my husband take an extra shift with the baby the night before, I had to wake my tired AF ass up to feed and change the baby and let the neighbor’s dogs out (Since we had also decided that we could handle dog sitting the neighbor’s dogs while trying to wrangle a 6-month old, in-laws, family, and the holidays. Brilliant fucking idea.).

Baby fed, dogs settled, and other boob pumped, I handed my son off to my mom to get back into bed and try to catch some extra zzz’s before everyone arrived. No sooner had my head hit the pillow than my husband groggily asks, “Did you pick up the dinner?” FUCK. I tear off the sheets, throw on yesterday’s clothes (which pass the smell test) and head out in the rain for the grocery store. It’s like a scene from a bad movie. Rain—not snow for Christmas—pouring. Headlights lighting my way like a cheap Rudolph imitation. I check my rearview mirror and notice my wayfarer frame glasses are crooked on my face. I’m a literal mess from head to sockless toe.

I fight my way through the hordes of morons who decided to wait and do their holiday food shopping on Christmas Eve day, while ignoring the fact that I myself am now part of that crowd. I throw some avocadoes in my cart for good measure. Who doesn’t love guacamole? How festive.

I make my way to the deli counter where I ask for my prize possession—my fully cooked, no work needed, holiday dinner. The guy responds with “Uh…you ordered it already?” Why yes, I told him, I ordered online and was due to pick it up 36 minutes ago. He shuffles off to the back while images of cooked dancing turkeys and zero dish washing start to fade from my eyes. He brings out a giant Butterball cooked, air suctioned, packaged bird, and a bag of sides. I fish through the back to make sure that everything is there, my stomach sinking to my knees when I process how fucking tiny each of the sides are.

I call my mom (of course) in a panic, and relay the ludicrous size of the sides. “It’s okay,” she assures me, “we have plenty of food.” I throw some sweet potatoes, russet potatoes, kielbasa, chips, and a lot more wine in the cart for good measure. This cheap and easy holiday meal is getting to be really expensive.

I finally make it home, glasses fogging from the combination of rain, cool air, and body heat. As I make my way inside my house with the last of the bags I grab a Straw-Ber-Rita beer from the garage. Is there such a thing as “too early” to drink? Not on motha’ fuckin’ Christmas Eve it’s not. I proceed to unpack and colorfully review the dinner for my wide-eyed mom.

“So we start with the miniature size pumpkin pie that Barbie must have cooked in her fucking dream house kitchen. No dreams left here,” I say, “And what the fuck is this? The tiniest tray of mashed potatoes I’ve ever seen! At least there’s butter on it. THIS SERVES 4-6?! Where the fuck are we, the North Pole? Does this serve 4-6 Christmas elves?! How many humans does it feed, two?! These green beans look disgusting, what the hell is poured over it? Last year’s gravy pan scrapings? Oh look, they gave us a gallon each of gravy and cranberry relish, well thank God for that because we know everybody is always like ‘Oh, me! I want the cranberry relish first!’ What else is in here? Oh right, this miniature cubed sweet potato and potato oddity. And they even put in three cranberries for color! The forethought of preparation here amazes me. Look at this turkey! I thought it would be a fresh rotisserie bird! Not a water injected bird on steroids that is shrink wrapped for shipping. I could have bought that myself! Where is my drink?”

I may have continued on in this manner for another few minutes. It was not my proudest moment. As it turns out, my poor mother ended up slaving away in the kitchen all day anyway, making more dishes because of the paltry amount our purchased dinner had provided us. What I should have done is said politely, “This is not adequate for our needs” and handed everything back and cooked everything ourselves. Instead, I spend the day hovering—and not really being much help—in the kitchen, while making sure the baby ate enough, but also having to strap him on in the baby carrier because he was so overwhelmed by the people, while also trying to make sure the needs of our family guests were met. And that our dogs and the neighbor’s dogs were let out, fed, and watered. Merry fucking Christmas.

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I think there are several important lessons here. The first is that I should have just let it go. Accepted what is for what it is. Instead of worrying about it, I should have made it the minor detail and not a major focus like I did.

The second lesson is to let enough be enough. The reality is we had plenty of food (as was evidenced by all the leftovers) and even if we hadn’t, people would deal with it. We tend to get so caught up in the gluttony of the holidays—food, presents, decorations, more, more, MORE—that we forget about the important things like being lucky enough to have food, lucky enough to have the money to buy gifts, and lucky enough to have family around us.

The third lesson is to realize what is truly important. Did it really matter how the sweet potatoes were cut or how shrivel-y that fucking turkey skin was? No. The truly important moments of Christmas were spending time with my precious family and loving on my new beautiful baby boy. Enjoying the fleeting moments of togetherness is what I should have been focusing on.

All good lessons to be remembered for next year, right? Oh, and of course, the last lesson: don’t order a fucking precooked holiday dinner.

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