Planning a Traditional Christmas Dinner

If there were an Academy Award for “Most Traditonal,” Mama would be the sure winner.

There’s a rotary phone next to the dining table. Kitchen utensils that belonged to her mother and grandmothers are not just part of the décor but are used every day.

“That glass doesn’t go in the dishwasher!” she’ll call from the other room, “It was Grandma Ethel’s and the dishwasher will ruin the finish. I’ll wash it by hand.” How did she know I was thinking about putting it in the dishwasher?

Mama loves the continuity of family and family holidays in particular. We always play Taboo. We always get socks in our stockings. We always have turkey dinner at Christmas just like we do on Thanksgiving, albeit later in the day because of the gifting swirl.

There are more or less 20 at dinner. The menu never varies. Alicia does the mashed potatoes. Sabrina is in charge of the yams–much negotiation over the proportion that includes marshmallows–and the fruit salad, “It’s so much more fun to cook in a group,” she says. Jessamyn and Ariel help peel and chop and clean. Mama does the sauce for the creamed onions, the onions themselves, the stuffing, the apple pie, the pecan pie, pie crusts for extra pies, the peas, the gravy, and an awful lot of other things.

Daddy puts the turkey in early. I prepare the same Cranberry Relish my grandmother Myrtle used to make, as well as the Cherry Delight and Blueberry Delight that were her specialties. Once I only made the Cherry and there was squawking, so I returned to making both.

One year I made cheese fondue as an appetizer to tide everyone over and whoosh…suddenly I was expected to make fondue every year. Be careful what you do at Mama’s house because if people like it, you are part of the tradition. Bananagrams got added to the game repertoire a couple years ago.

The stuffing always goes in the giant Heathware bowl, the Cranberry Relish in the cut crystal glass. And don’t you dare light the candles on the table. They are antiques! I’ve shown Mama a zillion internet sources that say you can put sterling silver in the dishwasher, but she won’t hear of it.

But the whole Christmas business has been getting out of hand for years and except Mama, we are all experimenting. David made a play to have Christmas at his house, but that didn’t get very far.

One year we picked up Christmas dinner pre-prepared. The stuffing was found unacceptable. We are more diligent and clear now about assigning people to bring things. David always does appetizers. If you want beer, bring it yourself!

And the quantities of everything are astonishing. The little nephews are now, mostly, GIANT NEPHEWS. The jokes about how much young men would be funny if it wasn’t true.

This year a good and new complication: Cullen’s football team, San Jose State, has been doing very well and he will be playing in the Military Bowl on December 27.  Mama and Sabrina leave for Washington D.C. early on the 26th.

Mama and I were talking today about how it’s all going to work.

If I wasn’t already sitting down, I might have keeled over when she said:

“We’re going to have a ham for Christmas this year. It’ll be so much easier.”

About Karen Ray

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