When I think of Thanksgiving and Christmas, I envision something like the Norman Rockwell painting “Freedom from Want” with three generations of family gathered around a big farm table passing the Turkey and mashed potatoes. The meal begins with a prayer of thanks or the song “Bless be the Ties that Bind” and everyone is grateful to be together for a lovely feast.
We’ve had this kind of Thanksgiving and Christmas at the farm in days past and I treasure that memory forever. The family cooks, Grandma, Mom and Aunt Mary were flushed and slightly out of breath, but proud to serve up the feast to their treasured family. Their table was laid with traditional holiday fare, repeated year after year. In our case, dim sum from the German tradition with seven sweets and seven sour’s and ham and game along with turkey. Family and food were the focus, and tired “little ones” the main distraction.
Some things this year will be the same, and some things will be different–but the one thing we want to maintain is the joy of the season and a peaceful and pleasant time with family that nourishes relationships and builds memories that sustain us. There will be many more distractions this year that we’ll have to workaround to make the season merry. Here are a few tips on how we’ll keep the peace.
Plan ahead to increase the probabilities of relationship building conversations and good digestion by using place cards around the table, thoughtfully. Position the good talkers next to the good listener’s and grandparents near distant grandchildren, and the hard of hearing near the kind hearted. You know your peeps!
Maintain a lighthearted conversation at the table. Ideally, we like one topic at a time with everyone offering an opinion or a story or a joke and a lot of laughter. The host or hostess or good conversationalist can introduce the topic–avoiding topics that are known “hot buttons” for one or more family members. Since our family loves to debate–this is not easy–and the best debaters can drown out our more thoughtful and soft spoken family members, so we will try to facilitate the family like a “focus group” with everyone getting a word in participation. When this breaks down with three or four conversations are happening at the same time, bring them all together with a provocative new question around a topic.
Avoid risky topics. I must confess to my own hot buttons in conversation like climate change, GMO’s impact on the food supply and terrorists, but I will keep these topics close to the vest as everyone knows where I stand on these issues and I don’t want to be on a soap box or start a debate. I’ll speak of positive advances in alternative energy production, growth in organic food farming, and International efforts to secure world peace, instead. If I hear a comment that is likely to set off a fire storm, I’ll reply with something like “how interesting” and change the topic.
We’re meeting niece Morgan’s significant other and potential new family member for the first time, so I want to learn more about him, without making him want to run from the table and our family! Questions meant to grill or haze this newbee (like, when are you going to marry my niece?) are off-limits and will be more uplifting, such as “how does your family celebrate the holidays”?
Inviting a stranger to the group, like a visiting foreign student, is often a blessing in keeping conversation from becoming too personal and cooling contentious topics. Introducing them to our traditions and learning about their traditions can involve everyone in delightful conversations. Many foreign students have been invited to our table over the years as well as friends at loose ends for the holidays. I’m sure they are unaware of the role they play in keeping everyone on their best behavior.
Cocoa, our mini-red poodle will not be invited to the table, as much as he would like to attend. The little beggar who delights us privately might very well be a nuisance to others and will be brought to the party for a touch football game….later.
Cell Phones – Some ground rules need to be set in advance around cell phones, don’t you think? We do have some family members who tune out the conversation and text away with phone discretely in their laps, insulting the people at the table, I believe. Others have a way of proving you are wrong, with an “I’ll Google that” and tell you the facts. So, we’ll gather cell phones in a basket before dinner with a promise to return them after the meal. If someone must take a call, they can leave the table to do so. Tough rules for tough distractions!
Football – The big screen will be in another room and the DVR will be activated if dinner runs into game time. We will honor big game times and try to keep meal schedules on track to avoid anxiety on the part of true fans.
If we play touch football in the yard, we’ll let the little kids win, or at least not humiliate or wound them. We do have a die hard football fan in the family, a brother-in-law who can’t miss a moment of play, so he usually decides to stay home in his man cave and watch the entire game day with take-out chicken. This is OK with the rest of us. We can catch up with him later.
Toasts and Prayers
Keep them short and eloquent, toasting the hosts, the cooks and the people in the room (who are the right people) and the people far away who are missed. Going around the table asking each person what they are grateful for can be uplifting, bonding and a great climate setter for the meal. If a prayer is de rigor in your family as it is in our’s, remember to keep it short and relevant to the day and don’t use a blessing for the meal as an opportunity to present a sermonette, as the gravy congeals.
What to drink and when?
It’s lovely to have complimentary wines served with the meal and cocktails before and cordials after, all within moderation and in due time. It’s fun for the cook to sip a little and cook a little, but it can seriously slow down preparations–yes, this is learned from experience. Mia Culpa. Also, the host should make sure that there are plenty of interesting, non-alcoholic drinks available and monitor drinking so that the party is convivial, but doesn’t get out of hand or set up any driving risks. The weather and roads during the holidays are challenging and demand good driving skills so don’t let family members drive who have overdone it. They can nap on the couch until ready for the road or handoff their keys for a ride home.
We have to bring lavender into our holiday equation, or it wouldn’t be a LavenderGreen Celebration. We’ll have a menu with lavender in Herbs de Provence for the turkey. You can find other lavender infused recipes on our Pinterest page, but use sparingly to introduce this new taste to family. This year, we’re making Earl Gray Tea & Lavender Infused Chocolate Truffles, by popular demand. (Recipe and video)
Before the meal, we’ll diffuse “Celebrate” to set a cheerful mood and give a scent memory of Christmas past with this blend of lavender, frankincense, orange, cinnamon, rosewood, cistus and mandarin. We’ll add a few drops to our diffuser in the foyer to great incoming guests. We’ll turn it off when the fragrance of roasted turkey should prevail. (order Celebrate here)
We’ll spritz the football game room with “road rage relief“, probably in mist form, when the going gets tough for losing team’s fan because it reduces anxiety and tempers.
Here’s hoping that this will be the best Holiday ever with good memories made and relationships strengthened!
To learn more about the miscellany of modern manners–for hosts and guests, see Ben Schott’s article entitled “Giving & Thanking” in the Thanksgiving issue of Bon Appetit magazine. This article triggered my own thoughts and experiences in hosting holiday dinners for family. I’d love to hear from you about your family’s experience and your tips for keeping the peace at holiday time.
Happy Holidays Readers and many blessings in the year ahead,