Take a moment to appreciate the way your city celebrates the season, and fall in love all with what it means to be home for the holidays.
By Denise Sakaki
One of my favorite running gags on NBC’s sitcom, Parks and Rec, is by comedian Aziz Ansari, whose character created the phenomena known as, “Treat Yo Self.” His character gets together with his office BFF and once a year, they spend the whole day treating themselves to … well, everything. Massages? Treat Yo Self. Clothing? Treat Yo Self. Mimosas? Treat. Yo. Self. A funny bit of comedy, but downright profound, celebrating a rare day of Yes to combat a whole universe of No’s. I giggle every time I re-watch the clip on YouTube, but I found myself saying to myself one day this fine December: Treat Yo Self – Holiday Edition!
Amid a blur of projects, meetings and all those pesky things that weigh our days down, I realized all the holiday lights were up, it was finally appropriate for the radio stations blasting Jingle Bells since October to be playing holiday music, Christmas trees were hanging on for dear life, hogtied to the tops of cars – twas the season to be merry, at long last! I had a rare day where I found myself with a string of cancelled appointments and a morning free and clear of to-do’s. My initial thought was to fill the time with work, to get ahead of… more work. That’s a terrible idea. But I had to be in Seattle for part of the afternoon, so I thought, why not head into the city and take a moment to soak up some Northwest holiday spirit?
What a rare pleasure it is to spend a morning in the city to admire its holiday décor. It’s certainly not as rockstar as eating a bowl full of foie gras while crusing on a yacht, but a small luxury of free time is a downright miracle these days. And downtown Seattle during the holidays has a special place in my heart. I came to Washington State over a dozen years ago by way of the arid dunes of Arizona — no job, no friends, no idea what the heck I was doing, moving to a strange place that never seemed to stop raining. I first came to Seattle back in 1998. It was in the beginning of December, so the city greeted me with holiday sparkle, evergreen boughs hung on every corner — even the Space Needle had its version of a Christmas tree up, with lights strung down its topmost point. A new place feels lonely when you’re a stranger, but the holiday decorations made Seattle feel familiar, and I could begin to consider the Pacific Northwest a place called home.
I made a lot of visits to Pike Place Market when I first moved to the area. I would go by myself, since I didn’t know anyone yet, and it was one of those places where it’s fine to be alone. You almost preferred it, so that you could take your time to examine every little hidden corner and admire everything on the stands at leisure. The market was always busy and vibrant, regardless of the time of year, and it awakened every sense. The briny smell of the Puget Sound waters coming off an icy breeze, the cold fresh scent of whole fish stacked on ice at the many fishmonger stands, the doughy sweetness of just-fried doughnuts at the little stand near the main entrance — walking through the maze-like corridors felt the same now as it did years before. It was a comfort to experience it all over again, but with a sense of ownership and familiarity after so many years. And this time, there was the scent of fresh pine trees from the open Christmas tree lot.
The mood of the busy lunch crowd was festive, and since I was in a Treat Yo Self frame of mind, I did some shopping at DeLaurenti, the specialty food and wine store nestled in the market. A handful of precious dried morels, a supply of unctuous porcini powder, a bottle of whiskey barrel-flavored bitters – all the things you never need, but surely want. They were purchased with confidence, not out of novelty; each item had a purpose and it a gift unto itself, knowing I wasn’t shopping like a tourist, but a local who would take these treasures home to share with loved ones.
I adore holiday decorations, so I lingered through downtown’s Westlake Center to look at the lights strung on all the trees and admire the carousel they put up for December . It was inexplicably but awesomely blasting Christmas in Hollis by Run DMC. Storefront windows were festive, even the giant city block-sized department store that once was called The Bonmarche (it’s a Macys now), continues to put up its giant holiday star of lights on its signature corner. I made my way to the Sheraton Hotel because they’ve done a gingerbread village for the last twenty years and continued with this year’s sugarplum creations inspired by children’s stories and movies. It’s probably a madhouse of crowds on the weekends, but on a sleepy Monday morning, it was like having the whole village to yourself. The towering candy-dotted castles and icing smothered minarets may seem over the top, but it puts you in an instant holiday frame of mind.
I concluded my sugar-addled tour with a real Treat Yo Self indulgence – my first peppermint mocha of the season. Yes, with whipped cream and sprinkles, of course. It’s probably enough calories to make a supermodel weep, but I didn’t care. Christmas music was playing overhead as I waited for my drink, and that first taste of chocolate-peppermint brought me back to so many childhood Christmases Past, full of way too many candy canes. But also, it was a reminder of that last, fleeting moment in your life when you believed in a little bit of magic for a jolly old elf.
All things considered, it was a rather chaste Treat Yo Self day. Not a designer purse, nor head-to-toe cashmere to be found. But holiday spirit was rekindled in simple ways and retracing old steps was a thankful reminder to appreciate a life that continues to evolve. No matter where you live, take a moment to appreciate the way your city celebrates the season, and fall in love all over again with what it means to be home for the holidays.
Denise Sakaki is a freelance food writer and photographer who is always searching for the connections between food and personal experience. She is the creator of the food blog Wasabi Prime and contributor to Serious Eats, 425 Magazine and Drink Me Magazine.