OPINION: ‘Tis the season for an intervention

I’ve promised myself for five years that I wouldn’t do it again -- make homemade edible Christmas presents. It started in 2017 -- chocolate bark with a variety of toppings. 2018 saw different flavored jams. Candied nuts debuted in 2019 -- pumpkin walnuts, cinnamon pecans, garam masala almonds. The first pandemic Christmas, 2020, was crazy -- add lemon curd, peanut brittle and cranberry shortbread to the candied nuts.

The nuts were missing in 2021, at least the candied ones. Chocolate bark and peanut brittle returned, joined by gingerbread granola. This year, it’s chocolate-dipped pretzel rods rolled in crushed candy canes, and the candied nuts. The list of family and friends receiving these gifts has only grown.

Why do I do it? I wish I could tell you that joy and fulfillment comes from the endeavor, the completion, the connection with loved ones. I start out with that fantasy. Then it quickly devolves into Dante’s Circles of Christmas Kitchen Hell:

1. Shopping

2. Peeling, chopping, grating

3. First aid required because of the previous circle, and researching whether blood-borne pathogens (of which I don’t think I have any, but I don’t have a test kit for that) can withstand 350 degrees in the oven or boiling on the stovetop

4. Measuring


5. Mixing -- with spoon, spatula, whisk, blender or mixer, depending on the recipe

6. Baking and cooking multiple items simultaneously, requiring a timing chart comparable to a map of the Tokyo subway system

7. Wrapping and packaging for mailing

8. The dreaded trip to the post office

9. Returning home to a house that resembles Santa’s workshop after 2018′s magnitude 7 earthquake.

Each circle takes time I never think about when I am fantasizing. My fantasy begins to dissolve with the first circle. Am I the only one that prepares for Costco and Walmart during the holidays by girding my loins? After the shopping, I fantasize the fun is about to begin, then it doesn’t. Instead, there’s assembly line, monotonous, mind- and body-numbing labor -- hours, rolling into days. Along the way, it occurs to me I’m spending this time making something that is available retail -- cheaper, tastier and better packaged. My effort will be consumed in minutes and end up as poop.

Why has this continued for five years? I assign blame. There’s my mother -- a working mom who looked like a brunette Donna Reed, was as sweet as Ozzie’s Harriet, and made a “Leave It to Beaver” hearth and home of domesticity in her non-working hours. (That’s okay, readers under 35, I don’t know your cultural icons either) Oddly, her influence didn’t take until I reached my 60s. I was a tomboy as a kid, an adventurer in my teens and 20s, a single, career-focused woman in my 30s, and a working dame with flying, fishing and hunting passions in my 40s, 50s and 60s. Mom did the homemade gig my entire childhood and sang carols while doing it. She must’ve planted a latent seed of expectation.

Then there’s Gail and Klaudia -- longtime friends. They were modern, Alaska versions of Mom. You know the kind -- careers, kids, spouses, outdoorswomen, harvesters, vacuum sealers, gardeners, canners, picklers, chefs, bakers, weaver and knitter (Gail), artist and captain of her Sitka fishing boat (Klaudia). They excel at and enjoy all of it. They also send my beloved and me a box of homemade, gourmet treats every Christmas. Thanks, Gail and Klaudia, no pressure.

My compulsion might also be clinical. It’s plausible that each holiday season I lapse into a “fugue” state. A person with dissociative fugue forgets their identity, along with their memories, personality, and history, and behaves in unpredictable ways. They can remain in this state for days.

Sound crazy? Well, the Alaska Criminal Court of Appeals recognized the fugue state as a possible defense to homicide in Beagel v. State (1991). I rest my case. Not my fault.

I have character evidence to support my claim. While my brother did a stint individually bagging this year’s pretzel rods so we could have Sunday dinner before midnight, he asked, “Where did this person who looks like my undomesticated, tomboy sister come from?” My beloved beseeches, “Who are you and what have you done with my wife?”

To top my frustration, this malady comes at an age where time is increasingly precious. Decisions of how to spend time should be made by asking, “At the end of my life, will I wish I’d had more time in Dante’s Christmas Kitchen Hell?”

Never again. I’ve scheduled an intervention with my brother and my beloved for the week before Thanksgiving next year. They will employ a “carrot-and-stick” methodology. The stick: photos of this year’s confectionery chaos to penetrate my annual amnesia. The carrot: a list of things I love to do and take great satisfaction from as alternative activities to dangle before me.

For those who are like my Mom, Gail and Klaudia, to paraphrase Tiny Tim, “God bless you everyone.” As for me, fa-la-friggin’-la to freedom from Christmas Kitchen Hell.

Val Van Brocklin is a former state and federal prosecutor in Alaska who now trains and writes on criminal justice topics nationwide. She lives in Anchorage.

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Val Van Brocklin

Val Van Brocklin is a former state and federal prosecutor in Alaska who now trains and writes on criminal justice topics nationwide. She lives in Anchorage.