December 20, 2018

Anticipating Christmas

Anticipating Christmas
Shrimp and Okra Gumbo

In November 1971 Carly Simon released her second studio album, which was titled Anticipation. The title track of that album soared to number 3 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart, and the following year it nabbed her a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Female Vocalist. It’s a song, she later revealed, that she wrote on the guitar in about 15 minutes while waiting for Cat Stevens to pick her up for their first date. It’s a song that has endured and is still one of her biggest hits. Of course, I wasn’t aware of any of this in 1971, since I was not quite one-and-a-half years old when “Anticipation” hit the airwaves. And yet this song played a big, big part in my childhood… thanks to Heinz Ketchup.

In 1974, Heinz Ketchup picked up the chorus of “Anticipation” and, changing just one word, they transformed it into not only a catchy jingle, but also a very effective marketing campaign that continued to run through 1979. It went like this: “Anticipation, anticipation, it’s makin’ me wait.” I can hear it now, just thinking about it. And I can see that thick, rich red ketchup slowly moving toward the opening of the glass bottle. And I can feel, well… the anticipation. Very. Effective.

The impact of Heinz Ketchup on my early culinary development should be appreciated. You could argue that Heinz Ketchup is what caused the development of my palate, because in my early years there was not much I would eat if it were not first topped with, or dipped in, Heinz Ketchup. Mercifully, my palate did develop. But my craving for anticipation did not. Let me explain.

When I reflect back on the Christmases of my childhood and my youth, what I remember most is the anticipation, the exciting waiting for what was to come. Not just the morning of or the day before, but starting with the return to school after Thanksgiving. From that point everything focused on Christmas and fueled my anticipation: the crafts we made at school, the Christmas specials on TV (like Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas and A Charlie Brown Christmas), the lights and decorations throughout my neighborhood and town, the colorful Santa-themed ads for toys and games inserted in our local newspaper… everything was Christmas. And I was excited.

Yet, invariably, whether I received everything on my Christmas list or not, my anticipation, my excitement, would end in a sense of crestfallenness… of disillusionment or disappointment. Not that I would have described it that way. I didn’t know those words back then. What I knew was this: Christmas had come, and Christmas was now gone for another year, and I felt disappointed… because the anticipation, the excitement, was gone. Life now reverted back to ho-hum. And I was not OK with ho-hum. It has taken me decades to learn the lesson (and I’m still learning it!) that I did not learn at Christmastime when I was a kid: the best that life has to offer is found in the ho-hum, not in the anticipation. By getting caught up in the excitement of anticipation I missed so much “real life” in the here and now. The same thing happened at the first Christmas. For centuries and centuries, the People of God anticipated the savior. They awaited him with eager expectation. Yet, when he arrived, they missed it. Born in a humble stable, under the radar, in the ho-hum of life, he was welcomed only by poor shepherds and a few foreigners. And his own people continued to miss him for the next 33 years….

To read the rest – and to get my recipe for Shrimp and Okra Gumbo – go to