With Christmas approaching I start the count down for the big day, stress over the right gifts for the folks on my list, and how to squeeze in time to decorate. I also think about what I’ll serve for every meal surrounding the holiday. Planning those meals is the fun part. I enjoy the whole process—from the menu and the special ingredients needed, right down to the actual preparation. My trip to Zabars is done, the herring, Stilton and brie are in the fridge, and my husband is in the middle of the three day preparation for the gravlax.
We have our traditions and each of them is sacred. But all this delicious and to some, exotic food, accompanied by great wine, doesn’t overwhelm the fact that this holiday has always been a family affair with my husband and children, and now their spouses, helping out at every step.
When I started writing this piece I was thinking the food was what made Christmas so special. But I realize that really isn’t true. There’s no dispute that the meals and preparation are important, but it’s not what makes holiday so meaningful and enjoyable. What is important are the rituals and the traditions that have been created from having these family meals and being together. The dinners, including the planning and preparation, are what the holidays are about and are so much of our family’s tradition. It’s why I try each year to make them special.
I marvel at friends and acquaintances and even extended family that tell me how they’ve figured out how to make Christmas easy. “Cold cuts,” they say. “We pick up food at the deli the night before so no one has to fuss.” Others tell me they’ve discovered the solution to a peaceful Christmas: the simplified menu. “We just get a spiral ham,” I’m told, “and with a Caesar salad, we’re set.”
In our house, there would be a revolution if I ever suggested either menu. I wouldn’t be happy either.
But in the end, I understand it’s really not about the food per se. Focusing on the meals isn’t about having a gourmet feast or the extraordinary wine that’s been chosen to accompany all that good food. It’s the being together around a table enjoying each other’s company.
I don’t have the perfect family—does anyone? But in spite of our differences and maybe because one of my daughters and her family live on the other side of the country in LA, we want to come together as a family and so far have managed to every Christmas and several other times of the year.
That’s the real meaning of the holiday, being together around the table enjoying the time that we have. Of course what we eat and drink adds to the fun, at least in our house, and the fact that everyone pitches in to cook and help with the clean up makes it all possible and enjoyable for everyone. So really, cold cuts or a simple and basic meal may not be my choice, but it’s not a sacrilege. The important thing is the comfort and joy of being at the table together this time of the year.