It's Your Party

It’s Not Christmas 'Til My Husband & I Split an 8-Pound Ham

December 20, 2018
Photo by Rocky Luten

We're highlighting clever tips and tricks for pulling off any holiday get-together without breaking a sweat. It's Your Party, after all, so you might as well enjoy it!

For most of my life, a “small” holiday celebration meant sixish people. But rewind to Christmas Eve last year and we weren’t six—or five or even four or three. We were two. Me, my husband, and an eight-pound spiral ham.

At the time, Justin and I lived in North Carolina. We had been there for almost four years for his Ph.D program, hundreds of miles from our families in the Northeast. Most holidays, we found a way to reunite with everyone, but last year was complicated, and our big holiday plans ended up being: go nowhere, see no one.

This could have been sad. How do you even make a Christmas Eve feast for two people? Go to a restaurant? Buy a few slices of ham at the deli counter? Is it even worth it? After lots of mulling over mulled wine, we realized the answer: You don’t make a Christmas Eve feast for two people. You make a Christmas Eve feast, period. And two people just happen to attend.

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Justin loves spiral ham because he grew up celebrating Christmas and that was his family’s meat of choice. I love spiral ham because I didn’t grow up celebrating Christmas and a giant pork centerpiece just sounded so, well, cool.

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Top Comment:
“Also, Honey Baked Ham sells a small, bone in, spiral sliced ham they call a mini ham. It's about 4 lbs. It's a trade off, though. Because for what that mini ham costs ($40 ish) you could buy a huge, decent ham from a supermarket.”
— FrugalCat

Unlike a roasted turkey or chicken, roasted ham is next to no work. Just brush with glaze, stick in the oven, and, soon enough, carry a glossy, lacquered, bacon-scented masterpiece to the table. A lot of glaze recipes are part spicy, part sweet, and mine is no different. I stole it from my family’s recipe for glazed, scored, and baked Hebrew National salami (better than it sounds). All you do is combine equal parts Dijon mustard and apricot jam.

Of course, there’s some irony here—taking a kosher dish and adapting it to a ham. But this, too, feels true to my family. While my mom is Jewish, my dad is not, and we were just as likely to have matzo brei for breakfast as we were to serve Taylor ham alongside. One of my favorite parts about traditions is watering them, so they can grow and change, just like us.

Unlike any other holiday of my life, Justin and I shopped the day before, and started cooking the day of. Bagna cauda and crudités, cheese and crackers, lots of wine to start. We painted the ham sloppily—getting glaze all over fingers and making sure none went to waste—carved it unneatly, and ate more than is appropriate while standing over the carving board. We served it with heavily-buttered bread, plus a fried chestnut and frisee salad. We stayed at the table forever. Pear crisp and all the heavy cream for dessert. There was Christmas music playing in the background. And we wore our pajamas the entire day.

Now, if you’re thinking, An eight-pound ham for two people! How wasteful! well, let me stop you there. Because not a bite of that ham was wasted. We ate the whole dang thing that night.

No, I’m just kidding. We ate a lil’ more than we should have (it’s a holiday after all!) and still had many, many pounds of leftovers. Then we individually portioned those, stuck ’em in the freezer, and reaped the rewards for months: grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, ham fried rice, ham and pineapple pizza, ham-salad sandwiches, ham carbonara.

This year, we’re doing the same thing for Christmas Eve. I don’t know what the full menu is yet, but I know it’ll be just us and a crowd-sized ham. Call it a new tradition.

What are some of your favorite holiday traditions? Please share in the comments!

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


bellw67 December 23, 2018
We buy a spiral ham for Christmas every year and there are two of us. Usually a couple of meals, a couple of sandwiches and the rest in the freezer, plus the bone for soup. This year we bought two, one in November and the second for Christmas dinner. I never get sick of ham.
Emma L. December 23, 2018
Me neither!
Donna December 22, 2018
Sounds like a wonderful Christmas Eve. Love the idea of pjs all day.
Emma L. December 23, 2018
That's the best part!
FrugalCat December 21, 2018
One year we had a Thanksgiving that was just the two of us. What to make? Turkey Tenderloin to the rescue! It looks just like a pork tenderloin, but it's turkey. No prep, no ones, no complicated carving, just slice after roasting. Yes, we missed out on the wishbone and the presentation of a big bird, but it was perfect for us. There were plenty of leftovers (bonus- the slices fit perfectly on rounds of French bread).
Also, Honey Baked Ham sells a small, bone in, spiral sliced ham they call a mini ham. It's about 4 lbs. It's a trade off, though. Because for what that mini ham costs ($40 ish) you could buy a huge, decent ham from a supermarket.
Emma L. December 23, 2018
Love how you created a new, just-you-two tradition!
witloof December 20, 2018
A friend and I have a longstanding tradition of cooking Christmas Eve dinner together. He is Chinese, I am Jewish. We try different things that appeal to us. Last year he asked me if I would make Jewish food, so we had chopped liver, matzo ball soup, and potato pancakes with applesauce. Sometimes we have roast duck. This year we're having moules mariner
witloof December 20, 2018
Oops! for some reason that posted before I was done. Mussels in white wine, spell check won't let me do it in French! A Caesar salad, and tart Tatin with homemade vanilla ice cream.
Emma L. December 21, 2018
Love that so much!
Stephanie December 20, 2018
I'm curious. What ham do you recommend? Do you have a favorite?
Emma L. December 21, 2018
Hi Stephanie! Because I didn't grow up celebrating Christmas, I don't really have a go-to ham—yet!—maybe someday. Right now, our strategy is just: Head to the nearest supermarket and snag one. Last year, that was Trader Joe's. This year, it'll probably be at Whole Foods.
Stephanie December 23, 2018
Thanks, Emma. I followed the same strategy. Let's see how it goes.
Kate December 20, 2018
My husband and I have done this on multiple Easters- just two people and an 8 pound ham. Not even ashamed to admit that we polished it off in a week and didn't even get sick of the leftovers.
Emma L. December 21, 2018
Aw love that! Do you have go-to ways to use the leftovers?
Aimless December 20, 2018
Just to note: Joy of Cooking defines eternity as two people and a ham.
Eric K. December 20, 2018
I love that!
Emma L. December 21, 2018
What?! Thank you so much for sharing—this gave Justin and I a big laugh. Just found a fun Paris Review piece about the quote: