My feelings regarding the Christmas season are well-known throughout the land, not to mention well documented in these pages. But this year, I promised to turn over a new leaf. A gilded leaf. A leaf from the pear tree that the partridge is sitting in. A leaf which extended my dining table to seat 12.
For the first time ever, we hosted the whole family for Christmas dinner: the Redcoats were coming and the Yanks flew over too. We would mix and mingle tradition, create new ones, and try, ever so valiantly, not to kill one another with passive aggressiveness, the holiday gift that keeps on giving.
I planned on being merry. I planned on being bright. I planned on being as lit up as the Christmas tree by about noon, courtesy of the finer wine my husband usually puts aside until the holidays, the one he assures me I won’t like. My husband is exceedingly generous….unless we’re talking expensive red wine.
When we invited everyone to come and stay with us for the holidays last year I knew couldn’t play Christmas hostess with the most-est if I didn’t put on my Christmas tinted glasses and alter my views to include–if not an actual winter wonderland– then at least a virtual one.
We planned, well in advance. Unpacking after the summer vacation we worked out the menu. By the time the leaves started to change color, we’d gotten the kids to write their wish lists. Extra bedding secured was secured by Halloween, five golden rings bought on sale by Black Friday and ten drummers drumming lined up by mid-December. Ba rump bum bum bum.
Bam! Done and dusted with confectionary sugar and sprinkles. What could go wrong?
There were very minor issues, like the great can-it-really-be-Christmas-without-sprouts? debate which caused my in-real-life friends no end of amusement and offered months worth of mirth and a multitude of sprout jokes at my expense.
The sprouts were a metaphor, you see. When you host a big holiday, it’s not just the food you’re managing. You’re managing expectations as well. When you’re doing it across cultures, even cultures as entwined and related as Brit and American, you’re managing tradition as well. You’ve got to take into consideration all those ghosts of Christmases past.
My British half is used to Christmas dinner Charles Dickens style. Turkey and trimmings and figgy pudding and possibly a small, polio stricken child in the corner. My Italian-American family traditionally did thirteen fish dishes on Christmas Eve. Linguine and lobster and lots of napkins tucked into your collar and talking with your mouth full. Conveniently, I am allergic to both turkey and as a recent mad dash to the emergency room proved, white fish as well.
Bring on the beef.
The menu change fit in with our plans. It was a Christmas reboot. Learn from the ghosts of Christmas past and use them to reconfigure Christmas present. A little bit of this, a little bit of that: American style mashed potatoes to go with the more traditional English roasted ones. Ice cream sundaes for dessert instead of Christmas pudding, but a full Boxing Day brunch. Throw in some Danish aebleskiver and pakkeleg and Bob Crachit’s your uncle. We were hoping that the proof in the Christmas pudding was that holidays don’t have to be done a specific way in order to be successful; that it is more important to fit everyone around the table than it is to fit the roast beast in the oven. That the ghosts of Christmas past can mingle and mix with the ones of the present and the future and all sit down and have a meal together.
So…did it work?
To tell you the truth, my husband and I were too busy in the kitchen to notice.
Hosting Christmas is hard work. Even when it goes off without a hitch, it’s a lot of preparing and chopping and slicing and dicing and wrapping and planning and bow-ing and be-ribboning. It’s a lot of baking and whipping and mixing and sprinkling, defrosting and in a small oven, military planning as to what is going in at what time. To the point where at several critical junctures, my husband and I were standing at the ready with oven mitts ready to take one pan out to get the next one in.
But…all of that, all of the planning and the cooking and yes, even the ironing of the napkins, allowed, I hope, the opportunity for our extended family to have a relaxing Christmas dinner, to share stories of their own traditions with one another. There was plenty of wine to lubricate the day. There was enough food for lunch and dinner the next day, and ham sandwiches the day after that. And dare I say that the absence of the sprouts didn’t cause too much distress.
It was exhausting. But it was also rewarding to have everyone in one place, enjoying the day. And that, we realized, was the best gift we could give to everyone. It made me appreciate so much more all the holiday dinners planned and executed by my mother and mother-in-law, by my grandmothers, by my sister-in-law. The hosts of Christmases past. Though you can’t wrap that appreciation with a bow and set it under the tree, I hope it is, nonetheless, a lovely gift to carry around.
Later my husband and I nestled all snug in our bed and faced the idea of Christmases future.
We both agreed it would lovely if we could spend the next one with good friends in Dubai.