Published in Canadian Living magazine

ARCHIE

By Steve Pitt

I know I'm weird but I can never truly believe it is Christmas until I smell the onions.

Oh sure, the signs are all there. It's Christmas Eve, CBC radio is playing its annual evening of "Christmas Carols No One Really Likes". In the last 24 hours, I have received 35 spam e-mails shilling breast enlargement, penis enhancement and Botox Injections as the "perfect way to say Merry Christmas". And if perky breasts and a face full of botulism doesn't make me feel Christmasy enough, I just have to look across the street at the new monster house owned by pair of bankers. Every year, they seize on the latest trend is in holiday decoration and turn it into a disaster. Last year, they strung up so many icicle lights their house ended up looking Superman's arctic Fortress of Solitude after .

This year, they have opted for a gigantic 12-foot-high Santa; unfortunately, with a slow leak. Every evening, they dutifully inflate Santa with a battery powered tire pump run connected to their BMW. Every morning, Santa is found slumped to the ground in some sort of macabre death pose. The kids on the street call the display "Drive-by Santa".

But enough of the gawking, I have work to do. So far, I've have spent 48 consecutive Christmases in the same house and every year, we have turkey. It was something my mother started because when she was a girl, turkeys were exotic and expensive.

Now I do it for my wife and in-laws. They're from Sri Lanka. Although I have learned how to conjure up competent curries, whenever my wife's clan come for Christmas dinner, they want the full Dickens table. Once, I tried to get Naked Chef on them and suggested that we try Cornish hens with basmati rice and wild mushroom stuffing. That stopped the conversation like a free-falling elephant. Since then, I have stuck with sage and onions for Christmas and restrict my Naked cuisine for other holidays like Thanksgiving and Easter.

This year's dinner, however, had its own challenge. A week before Christmas, my parents-in-law won a frozen turkey as the door prize at their building's combination Diwali/Christmas Senior's Night. When my son and I stopped by to pick the beast up, I was dumbfounded to discover that it weighed more than 20 kilos. My son, Kevin, dubbed the bird Archie, after Archaeopteryx, some sort of dinosaur bird he was studying in science class.

Once we got Archie home, it was obvious he was too big to fit in fridge and even protruded out of my biggest sink by six inches. I was at a loss at what to do until I remembered that my mother used to thaw huge turkeys in the back of the family pick-up because Toronto temperatures in late December are often just above freezing - perfect for defrosting. The only downside was having a rock-hard turkey carcass rocking and rolling around your truck bed. It made a heck of a racket going around corners and once we almost lost Dad when Mom hit the breaks hard and a 15 pound bird cracked the cab window like a cannonball just behind Da's head.

My idea was to take my son's old child seat out of storage and reinstall it in the back seat of the car. I buckled Archie up, tucked a baby blanket around him to keep the sun off with a jaunty "Go! Leafs! Go! Touque" and for the next three days Archie rode shotgun while I completed my final Christmas chores.

It worked like a charm, unless you want to count that hostile stare I received from a woman who happened see me emerge from the beer store with a 12-pack in either hand. She took one look at Archie all bundled up inside the unheated car and began making gobbling noises as I climbed in behind the wheel. She advanced, motioning that she wanted me to lower the window to say something but I put the car in reverse and made a shusshing motion while pointing to Archie.

And then there was that other awkward moment when I got pulled over for a R.I.D.E. check. One keener cop noticed that the baby seat was an obsolete model and growled that he SHOULD give me a ticket for endangering a passenger. I pulled back the blanket and said "And I suppose you think stuffing him full of bread and cramming him in a 325 degree oven is a no-no too."

No ticket, but no complimentary ice scraper either.

On Christmas Eve, I estimated that it would take at least half a day to cook a bird this big which meant I had to get up before dawn to have Archie reposing in his full glaze and glory the time the company began arriving by 4 p.m.

When the alarm went off at 3 a.m., it felt like just another early day. I had found a pan that would hold Archie, but inside the oven, it was standing room only. I propped him up with some butcher's cord and a tripod of wooden spoons soaked in water. Not bad, I thought as I slowly pushed Archie into the oven. In profile, he had a kind of had a Michelangelo's David standing-on-his-head thing happening.

After doing the dishes, I thought about sleep but did not feel the least bit tired. I microwaved some leftover coffee and sat in our still dark living room to watch the first rays of dawn enter the room and touch the top of our Christmas tree, playing across four generations of ornaments. The TV's weather channel played a no-name version of "Mary's Boy Child". Across the road, Drive-By Santa was down on his knees, head bowed in the dead still air.

And from the kitchen for the 49th consecutive year, the scent of onions, sage and turkey began to fill the house.

It's Christmas.

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