‘Tis the season for holiday fruitcake jokes: Fruitcakes as dense as concrete, fruitcake that gets re-gifted so often we think it might be as old as Grandma, fruitcake that would be better as a doorstop than as a dessert…
This holiday season my fruitcake will be flying. More on that shortly, but first a fruitcake primer.
As a child, I learned a lot of things from fruitcakes and family at the holidays. And the last few decades have turned out to be little more than a long process of un-learning those items and trying to replace them with actual fact. Shouting, “Words have meanings!” at your blood relatives might not be the most family-friendly approach to Christmas dinner, but it sure cuts down on that sitting-around-after-the-meal time.
Some of the things I learned while growing up:
1) Store-bought fruitcake is an abomination but homemade fruitcake is amazing because it is made with “love”.
2) Re-gifting is okay because your aunt has never been able to buy a decent gift in her life, and why should we have to be the repository of this crap?
3) Trying to convince Uncle Jim that evolution isn’t just an elaborate left-wing hoax tends to make dinner a little tense, but boy howdy, can we all chuckle at a fruitcake joke.
It wasn’t until many years later that I learned:
1) Pretty much anything tastes great if you add enough butter and bourbon, and equating those things with “love” is rarely a jackpot idea.
2) If you’re going to re-gift, you’d better be damn sure you keep track of who gave what to whom.
3) Cousin Timmy didn’t appreciate the fruitcake jokes as much as everyone else did, for reasons he would reveal after his second year at Oberlin.
And although once-gifted fruitcakes didn’t often make an appearance in the pile of gifts, other presents from holidays past regularly showed up wrapped in different tags and paper. My mom made a habit of keeping and re-gifting pretty much everything that any of us ever received and weren’t 100% enthralled by. An entire shelf in her walk-in closet was devoted to gifts received, unwanted, and soon-to-be-passed along.
She was usually pretty good about making sure she never gave something back to the original giver, but every so often she’d slip. Interestingly enough, those slips tended only to involve her sister, and generally occurred after a particularly tense Thanksgiving interaction. One year, as the cubic-zirconium-encrusted travel alarm clock whizzed past her head with my aunt’s cries of, “Well, this looks awfully damn familiar!” I’m pretty sure I saw the briefest smirk on Mom’s face, right before she dove to cover her head and neck.
Since I moved across the country a number of years ago, I no longer make it back home for as many family gatherings as I used to. And although I can’t say I long for the days of needing to brush up on my self-defense skills before gathering around the family hearth, I do miss standing along the back wall with my brother, watching the show and comparing notes on each relative’s performance.
If you’re tired of your own family’s fruitcake jokes and flying things, get yourself over to Curious Comedy Theater this month for their holiday show extravaganza, Flying Fruitcake. Portland’s only non-profit comedy theater is teaming up with aerial arts studio Night Flight for an admittedly strange but thoroughly compelling combination of improv comedy and aerial arts. Watch the Curious Comedy Players create a completely improvised show based on the audience’s holiday-themed suggestions — and between sets, the advanced class from Night Flight’s aerial arts studio will perform.
Fridays and Saturdays, December 3-17, 8pm. Tickets are only $15 at the door or $12 online.