Picture the iconic family dinner, sitting down around a well-dressed table, compliments of the matriarch, while the patriarch honorably heads the end of the feast with gilded leadership and paternal pride. Everyone is well dressed and the meal is laid out with as much care as a photo shoot for an HGTV cooking show.
Perhaps the scene rings with the reminiscence of Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom from Want” painting. It depicts the family sitting down to a Thanksgiving meal, as Mother delivers the turkey in front of Father, and smiles are exchanged all around.
For most families, this is the goal, but as I can attest from many a holiday flurry, the cookie-cutter dinner scene, while idyllic, isn’t the make-or-break achievement of these reunions.
Perhaps this sounds a little more familiar to you. It’s 9 a.m., and you’re already late. Lunch doesn’t start until 12 noon, but you have to get the kids in the car and attempt to carry out a hot Crock Pot to the car without slipping on the ice. Even if you make it to the vehicle, you still have to carefully balance it between your feet or on your lap until you reach the first of many destinations.
While wrangling urchins, a shoe falls off outside the car, but your hands are full, and the younger one already in the car has begun to cry for no apparent reason.
Fast forward to your arrival at stop number one. You screech to a halt in the driveway and reverse the painful process that has just occurred, pointing your holiday-crazed hooligans in the direction of like-minded cousins, or perhaps an immature uncle to keep them occupied.
You deliver your contribution to the food crew, be it in the kitchen or dining area, before realizing that you forgot something at home that feels far more important in that moment than it might be in reality.
In comes kid number one, crying because of a minor injury or major injustice that has just accosted them in the course of roughhousing and instigating with their kin in the next room.
Dinner has yet to start when you pause to realize that you have to do all this again in a couple of hours with the other half of the family. Or, depending on your situation, as many as two or three more times over the course of that day and even the next.
Christmas, and even Thanksgiving for our family, has been this way. Fewer childhood shenanigans as of yet, but more running around. It also doesn’t hurt that we love food, and thus feel responsible for sharing some of that love with each family faction that we visit, so as not to create the appearance of valuing one more than the other. For example, if Grandma gets a pumpkin roll, everybody gets a pumpkin roll.
Regardless, we’ve always fooled ourselves into believing that we will simply have to become the primary patriarch and matriarch of our own family branch. Then we can be the lamp that draws all of our little ones back home once we get too old and tired of making multiple holiday stops.
I say this while smiling through the delusions I know this holds. We know full well that any number of factors can upset this, and we can be just as easily cursed to roam for all time from dinner to dinner each Christmas.
On the other hand, there are perks to multiple stops for lunch, dinner, and in my favorite case, breakfast. Many, many choices of goodies to sample. The only disappointment comes when someone who typically brings a family-renowned dish decides to take a year off.
When it comes to breakfast, we typically provide this if not in whole, then in part, and are never disappointed. This last year, for example, my wife and I whipped up a spread of waffles and pancakes and French toast and sticky buns and eggs and bacon and sausage and more as we had the unique opportunity to spend Christmas morning at home. Our second son had just been born a week or two prior and we had the best excuse in the world not to travel all over the countryside.
BEST CHRISTMAS GIFT EVER!!
I joke, but it really was a nice reprieve. The only consistent problem with bouncing from meal to meal and house to house is that it becomes very difficult to maintain an appetite after the first meal or two. You want to enjoy each one, because of their unique treats and special savory bites, but when it becomes an endurance race reminiscent of an eating contest, the best of attitudes are tested.
What’s more, you begin to fade into the comforting embrace of each location’s most comfortable lounge areas. I believe my grandfather and I started a snore circle in the living room of my mother’s house two years ago, joined soon after by an uncle and a cousin. I promise it wasn’t a tactic to avoid cleaning dishes.
The way our here families do it differently, sometimes by tradition, and other times by necessity, to get a chance to see everyone you wanted to on or around the day of celebration. In any case, I find that good rest and fasting up front help, but with kids in the mix, the only easy part of that is fasting. In that case, I recommend coffee. Just keep a steady supply going, from whenever you get off work until you make it successfully through the gauntlet of dinner visits.
And remember, use whatever card God gives you to make it easier. If you just had a baby, make everyone come to you; if you are cooking the main portion of the meal, same thing. If you aren’t cooking and don’t have kids, by golly you get in that car and make the rounds, because there’s an oven-baked breaded crab dip with oyster crackers waiting somewhere with your name on it, and the early bird gets the worm.
Happy holidays from The Way Out Here, and from my family to yours. Enjoy the food, but most importantly, enjoy each other.
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