When I was eleven years old, the flu collided with Christmas dinner and forever dampened my enthusiasm for holiday food.
So, every year I sit back with a glass of wine and watch the mayhem unfold as my multigenerational and multicultural family of cooks and foodies barter and (mostly) good-naturedly bicker over which foods will take center stage on our holiday table. Bread stuffing or cornbread dressing? Canned or fresh cranberries? Turkey or Cornish hen? Sweet potato pie or pumpkin pie? What was that? The family vegans have offered to prepare a delicious meatless, eggless and gluten free holiday meal for the entire family?! Argh!
Somehow, we negotiate who will cook and what will be served and magically, a feast appears for all to enjoy (including the vegans). But, in the midst of the feeding frenzy, uh, festivities, I often wonder if we forget that the days before and after the big celebration are just as special as “the big day.”
After all, I challenge anyone to name an occasion more special than enjoying life with those you love. Before you dismiss me as a holiday Pollyanna, may I share a story with you?
My husband has a small collection of wonderful wine. I noticed, however, that when we would invite family over for casual dinners, he would make a trip to his favorite wine shop to buy the evening’s bottles instead of serving wine from his collection. One day, I asked him why he did this and he replied – almost amazed that I would ask such a silly question – that he was saving the good wine for a special occasion. After considering his answer, I asked what could be more special than enjoying a good meal with the people you love? Instantly, he smiled and his eyes sparkled – he’d had a V8 moment.
Did he share the good stuff that night? Not a chance! But, it didn’t take long for a man who loves family above all else to embrace the idea that simply being with those you love is indeed a special occasion. And now, whenever the family gathers for no particular reason, he eagerly opens the good wine, and I smile.
Yes, the holidays are a special time of year filled with ritual and parties, admittedly, special occasions. But, don’t you think that limiting such an outpouring of goodwill and love to just a few days a year is a shame? I know that I do. So let’s remember after the holidays that the food on our plates – whether it is macaroni and cheese or an expensive steak – is a blessing, and if we are sharing the meal with someone we love – or even just like – we are doubly blessed, no matter what day of the year it is.
Finally, I offer my favorite manners tip to all of the holiday foodies: Try a little bit of everything offered to you, compliment what you can and be kind and diplomatic about the rest. And of course, resist the urge to begin any sentence with “When my mother/dad/wife cooks the….”
Happy Holidays from Spencer Crane Etiquette, LLC
By Stayce Wagner, Spencer Crane Etiquette, LLC/All rights reserved
Originally published with the title “Our Ms. Manners Reaches Out Over Wine, Wisdom and Wacky Traditions,” on The Estrin Report, hosted by Chere Estrin