I’m having my family over for Christmas Eve dinner, which means I have a lot of work to do. While my dining room has improved somewhat since my Thanksgiving post, I’ve still got a ways to go. And then there’s the general cleaning, and the shopping, and the cooking. But I’m not complaining, because I started this family tradition more than twenty years ago, and I like it very much.
After I got married, a pattern emerged. On Christmas day, we’d spend about thirty minutes with my Mom, about five minutes with my Dad (they’d split years earlier), and then hours and hours with my in-laws. I didn’t see my brother and his wife and kids, my aunt, or my cousins, and I hated that. Some couples negotiate this issue by trading off holidays, but I knew that Edward would never agree to not see his family on any major holiday, so a year or so into the marriage I said to Ed, "Okay, I’m inviting all of my family to the house for Christmas Eve, and Christmas day we’ll spend with your family." This arrangement has worked out pretty well ever since.
(The one exception is December 25, 2001, which was my mother’s last Christmas before she passed on January 14, 2002. She was sick but had been feeling better, and as usual I was expected to spend time with Ed’s family, so I did. I was stressed to the max, and when we got to my in-laws I was harassed rather mercilessly, I thought, for not bringing the green bean casserole. When I tell you that for weeks afterward I had absolutely no love for these people, I am not kidding. Needless to say, I’ve never made that damn casserole again, either. Ever.)
Although in general I no longer enjoy cooking, the exception is holiday meals. I do enjoy cooking those. And, my brother will be disappointed if I don’t make Ina Garten’s fabulous Seafood Chowder. My feelings for Ms. Garten have cooled somewhat since that whole Make-A-Wish fiasco, but this is darn good chowder. Edward always gets upset when my brother takes all the leftovers home. I think it’s interesting the way Ed gets jealous of my brother—“Oh, you won’t make this chowder just for me, but if your little brother asks you’re like ‘Sure Hank. Of course, Hank’”—but at the same time, grow up Ed! (Christmas just brings out all kinds of latent family tensions, doesn’t it?) I try and tell him, “This chowder is for holidays only. It costs a fortune and is a bunch of work and what the heck would you and I do with six quarts of stew? Our boys hate seafood,” but he won’t be mollified.
Despite Ed’s jabs and the huge amount of time and effort I’ll be expending in the next few weeks, I’m looking forward to seeing my family and enjoying some good food and some even better conversation, because my family members are talkers. Politics, religion, relationships—all that stuff “they” say you’re not supposed to discuss we gab about with gusto. (The conversation did lag that one time we had a little problem with the heater and unbeknown to us carbon monoxide was leaking into the air, but other than that ...)
Author Burton Hillis said “The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree … [is] the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.” As the days get more hectic and nerves become more frayed, my hope is that you have some time to enjoy the lights, the music, and the joy of the season with your family, latent tensions and all.