Year-end holidays are a time to celebrate, sometimes in quiet, small groups and sometimes in large, elaborate gatherings. When holidays collide like this year’s Thanksgivikkuh or in year’s past when Hannukah, Christmas and Kwanza came within days (or even hours) of each other…or if you exist in a “blended” family of many traditions and beliefs as so many do, how do you please everyone and offend no-one? How do you co-mingle Aunt Martha’s Christmas Angel tree-topper (without a tree) and Aunt Sadie’s Grandmother’s Cousin’s Mother-in-Law’s chocolate plum cake and crisp mandel broit?
In my family, 50% intermarried, we always had our celebration on Christmas Day. It didn’t hurt that my maternal grandmother’s birthday was also December 25th, highlighting the desire for elaborate cooking and celebration.
Truth be told, when my ancestors stepped off the boat at Ellis Island and asked for birth dates, my great-grandmother probably wasn’t sure. There were no records kept in small “shtetl” villages and she had 4 children under eight in tow. Her likely response was “Hannukah.”…or thereabouts. “When’s that?” the recording agent must have asked. “December” (then, sotto voce: “you schumuck who doesn’t know when Hannukah is?”) my great grandmother must have said…and so little Ethel’s birthday was “converted” to a fixed calendar date: Christmas.
Fast forward about 80 years and I was making my own traditions by including friends and local family in my adopted home of New York. Christmas Eve became the time to say thank you to all those I loved and cared about…sort-of a love note…and a year-end celebration meant to include anyone and everyone who needed a place to go, regardless of affiliation.
But what to do when those pesky holidays all ran together? I began to term them either “Chrisma-Kwanz-Akkah” or (thanks to Jerry Seinfeld) “Festivus,” which always brought a bemused smile to the faces of my guests.
This particular evening was definitely a “Festivus” moment. Not even held on Christmas Eve, we all gathered on December 27th for some reason that year? I think it was because all of the holidays were colliding and people’s schedules were packed.
No matter, we rolled up the carpets and moved out the furniture and brought in 4 round tables along with mahogany ballroom chairs for 30, two tables each in both the living room and the dining room. We served buffet, following the salad course, from the kitchen.
Never short on dishes before, I had to borrow four place-settings from a friend which thankfully co-mingled with the eclectic look of the evening. My sturdy Mikasa Gray Travertine, Lenox Fruits of Life and mouth-blown, Italian ruby plates (a last purchase from B. Altman before they closed) looked great alternated along with several sets of ruby and clear stemware and two patterns of flatware.
Gold branches, purchased at Gracious Home at 75% off on Christmas Eve Day circled the tin pagoda lanterns that had been lurking in the back of a closet.
Once “placement” was determined for each table, and the cards put out, an appropriate Holiday Cracker was positioned near each guest, most of whom found paper crowns and toys inside!
By the way, the doggie was NOT found in the cracker!
Surprisingly, and you’d think just the opposite, 4 round tables actually created a feeling of both intimacy and increased visual space. It was cozy and grand all at the same time.
And in that vein, I long-ago created an after-dinner candle-lighting ceremony that serves to bring all faiths closer, if not together. If you’re Jewish, you bring and light a Menorah (or I provide spares). If you’re Christian, Buddhist, Nudist or other, you bring a candlestick. We all light the candles at the same time -in relative darkness- with most of the lights out. The blaze is amazing, warm and uniting…and it gives off a good deal of heat too!
Finally, the meal has to be special. It has to match the ambience of the evening, the holiday or the celebration.
As I recall this particular Festivus meal including:
Stuffed Mushrooms, Frisee, Red Beet and Goat Cheese Salad, Turkey-Veal Meatloaf, Brisket, Rice in Beef Broth and Onions, Potato Pancakes, Brussel Sprouts, Cranberry Sauce, Apple Sauce, Sour Creme and Gravy. Dessert included a Mexican Chocolate Cake, lemon bars and cream puffs.
AND, great quantities of Champagne were consumed by one and all!
ALL PHOTOS BY: Katrina Ferguson