Sweet and Sour Christmas: A Recipe

by Tara Campbell


Advance Preparation:

  1. Cave to self-imposed pressure to fly across the country to see family for the holidays again, despite your desire to stay home.
  2. Scour multiple travel sites for best price, grumbling continuously. For maximum inconvenience, forget to consider how early you’ll have to wake up to make the flight you eventually choose. Two days before takeoff, calculate timing. Stew.
  3. Sprinkle invitations to holiday parties you actually might have wanted to attend liberally within your dates of travel. To reduce bitterness, remember that you are an introvert, and probably would have stayed home anyway.


  1. Set alarm; fail to fall asleep.
  2. Strain result through traffic, lines, and airport security.
  3. Once past security, add a mile-long queue for coffee. Forego coffee.
  4. At gate, add one crying infant, one bickering elderly couple, and one family of loud talkers. Mix, too close. Pour into plane and simmer for five hours.
  5. Upon landing, transfer to rental car to cool. For best results, don’t think about how your mother used to pick you up from the airport; then as she got older, would ride along with your sister or brother to come get you; then would wait for you at home; and now, isn’t there anymore at all.
  6. Once at your sister’s house, whisk in one distracted sister, one brother-in-law who kind of forgot you were coming, and three sick children who fail to cover their mouths when they cough. Simmer.
  7. After 24 hours, separate sister from mixture and go out to lunch. Laugh. Reconnect.
  8. After another 24 hours, fold in one brother and one nephew flying in from LA. Mix with another brother arriving from Texas, and another brother driving down from Bellingham. Add a pinch of niece driving up from Portland.
  9. Press each ingredient firmly to your chest. Reserve warmth for remainder of year.
  10. That evening in your sister’s guest bedroom, lie on sheets that used to be on your mother’s bed. Think about the last time you held your mother’s hand, kissed her forehead, stroked her cheek, less than two years ago in this very house. Note: This step comes automatically. It is the simplest part of the process, and the most difficult.
  11. Know you will always come home again.


Tara Campbell (www.taracampbell.com) is a writer, teacher, Kimbilio Fellow, and fiction editor at Barrelhouse. Prior publication credits include SmokeLong Quarterly, Masters Review, Jellyfish Review, Booth, and Strange Horizons. She’s the author of a novel, TreeVolution, a hybrid fiction/poetry collection, Circe’s Bicycle, and a short story collection, Midnight at the Organporium. She received her MFA from American University in 2019.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Sweet and Sour Christmas: A Recipe”?

This piece came from a prompt in one of the phenomenal Kathy Fish’s Fast Flash classes. I was at my sister’s house for the holidays during part of the course, for only the second time since my mother’s death, so that whole experience was still very raw and present in my mind. Going home for Christmas always meant going home to Mom, even after she moved in with my sister, who had converted to Orthodox Judaism decades before (a whole other story). Even without the dynamic of navigating different cultural/religious practices, as parents age and pass on, the locus of “home” shifts, which is a disorienting experience for everyone involved. Still, family bonds are strong, no matter how you label them, and now our mostly secular family continues to come together to celebrate non-specific holidays in my sister’s Jewish household.


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