Everyone has their own little guilty pleasure that they love about the holidays – the kind of thing they wouldn’t admit to in mixed company. Like a secret love of popular musicians doing cruddy holiday specials, or an eagerness to finally get to drink eggnog without looking (too) weird. This year, I’ve decided that my holiday season guilty pleasure is the McDonald’s “Holiday Pie.”
For those lucky enough to not follow the McDonald’s menu closely, this yearly holiday-time staple appears irregularly sometime around November or December and lasts for several months, only to disappear without warning back to the hell whence it came sometime in January. Weighing in at 2.7oz, this particular pastry sports an impressive 270 calories (ten per tenth-ounce!) and 12 grams of fat. It costs a mere $0.69, or $1.00 for two. (Sometimes $1.00 for two.)
When you first open your greasy paper take-out bag and lovingly loft your brand new Holiday Pie high into the air, savoring the joyous euphoria of ephemeral ownership conveyed by participation in the capitalist system, you may notice the box that it comes in. It’s a pretty normal McDonald’s pie box, but have you ever actually looked at that box? I mean, really looked at it? Thought about what it means? Decifered the glyphs and runes that cover its salmon-colored walls? Or just looked at that darn picture? Seriously, what is up with that picture? Why is that man grimacing so upon receipt of that kiss? Why is the woman giving the kiss so non-committal about it? Who is that lady? Is she a girlfriend or wife perhaps? A scorned lover returning unwanted affection? A sister who turned a chaste hug into a fake make-out for a lark? A professional escort just trying to pay her way though law school by trading love for money, attempting to fulfill her contract while the man has second thoughts about his ability and desire to couple with a prostitute?
Once you overcome the existential dilema imposed by the ambiguous box art, and crack open the carelessly folded closure tab, you get to the good part: the pie itself. The “Holiday Pie” is like a custard-filled sugar cookie. And that sounds delicious! Or perhaps it would sound delicious, that is, if the custard wasn’t made as if by a futuristic machine race that had never tasted real custard, but only read about it in old books they found in post-apocalyptic wreckage. Basically, it’s the kind of custard that Neo ate in the Zion hovercraft in The Matrix. It’s eggy and sweet, like cake batter, yet with an oddly variable, one might say mercurial, consistency – some parts are firm as if baked, some parts are goo-y or almost runny, some parts are chewy like old gum, and some parts just aren’t there – there’s an air space instead. It sort of reminds me of yellowcake – not the foodstuff, but the radioactive powder produced during the processing of uranium.
The pie itself is pale and lumpy like a tumor, as though quality control down at the Holiday Pie plant just isn’t quite what it ought to be. The sugar cookie crust reminds me of those sugar cookies Edward Scissorhands subsisted on – entirely without nutritional value, and likely to turn you into a pale-faced monster. The sprinkles melt and bleed into the pie crust like ingrown hairs. Sometimes the filling oozes out like a surgery that has burst open its stitching. It doesn’t look like it’s supposed to! Where are the lovingly crimped edges? The perfectly proportioned sprinkles? The inviting custard filling? The single small crumb, perfectly positioned, to make the picture appear accidental and authentic? The festive yet unassuming holiday bell, placed nearby with ostensible carelessness?
And yet, “Holiday Pie,” I do love you. Despite all of your absurdities, despite all of your inconsistencies, despite your sickly chemical egg taste, despite the fact that you regularly confound the McDonald’s register operator into charging me $1.38 for two pies instead of $1.00, despite the fact that I still have no idea what it is about you that makes you “holiday,” I still love you. I ate probably a dozen of you this year. May your preservatives grant me one more year of life, that I will be able to greet you warmly again next year when you sneak back onto the McDonalds menu, sometime in November or December or October or whenever you darn well feel like it.
In summary, I suppose there is only one thing to call you; you are, truly, a McDonald’s “Holiday Pie.”