I suspect Christmas in our home is not so unlike Christmas in yours.
That there are certain Christmas rituals that bind your family together. Rituals that you, and every other member of your family look forward to, and without which, December 25th would seem like any other day. Maybe you have a certain routine for exchanging gifts. Maybe you walk on the beach together. Maybe it’s Euchre or Spades or board games. Perhaps it’s phone calls to out of town family members.
In our home now, it’s all about the meal.
On our dining room wall hang the menus of every Christmas feast since 2012. The first menu has things like: Citrus Cured Flounder, Fennel Salad with Seared Ahi, Deconstructed Chesapeake Bay Oysters Rockefeller, and Sticky Toffee Pudding - each course paired with its own wine, that
we carefully choose our friends at our wine shop choose for us. Over the years, the menus have gotten simpler, but not the food.
Every year, I pretend to be Nate’s sous-chef. He’ll usually give me a little bit of prep work in the week leading up to Christmas, but the reality is that Nate's the chef, the sous-chef, the expediter, the garde manger, and the grill cook.
He’s given me a little more responsibility, but my job really hasn’t changed much since 2012. I pour the wine, try to keep the kitchen clean, and make sure he has what he needs to plate each course. I love my job. I love being in the kitchen with Nate.
The food is only part of the deal. The table-scapes are always lovingly prepared, with fresh flowers, lots of wine glasses, and candles – always candles. Abi and Marcia have an entire bin – maybe two bins – full of chargers, garland, glass globes and brass vases that they somehow make look different every single year.
When we finally sit down, our Christmas meals tend to last
a long time for hours, but it never feels that way. And while the food is always really, really good, the meal is much more about who's sitting around the table than what’s on the menu. The conversation is the thing, and it’s always lively.
One of my favorite things about the meal is being in the kitchen with a glass of wine and eavesdropping on the chaos in the dining room – plans being made for the next year’s vacation, debate over who will be the next cousin to marry or have a baby, why the Scandinavian education systems is better (or worse) than ours. There’s never a shortage of viewpoints, and everyone is more than willing to share theirs, particularly after a few courses and a few empty bottles of wine.
Listening to these conversations is more than one of my favorite things about the meal.
It’s one of my favorite things. Period.
A few months back, Abi suggested that we have Christmas meals every Sunday. While they wouldn’t be quite the same with Chris and Victoria living in Boston and unable to drive into town every weekend, at least we could spend the day making an elaborate meal, preparing a beautiful table, and spending a few hours together.
On the one hand, I loved that these meals meant so much to Abi.
On the other hand, her suggestion destroyed me. I realized that she was coming to grips with the fact her prognosis meant she might never sit down to another Christmas dinner with her family. That possibility had been creeping around in the back of my head from the moment Dr. McGaughey had said the word cancer, but I ignored it, hoping it would go away. But when Abi made her suggestion, I could no longer pretend, and worse, it meant that she was dealing with the same thought – and it wrecked me that my daughter should have to consider such a thing.
But unlike me, Abi had looked it square in the eye, and she didn’t flinch. She took matters into her own hands. Abi was having Christmas whenever she wanted to have Christmas. It was her decision, and she wasn't surrendering it to anyone or anything. Not even Stage IV Neuro-Endocrine cancer.
Over the course of the next few weeks, we decided that monthly Christmas was more manageable, and we’ve settled into good routine. Now I look forward to these meals almost as much as I look forward to December. (If only I could fly Chris and Victoria down every month, that would make them perfect.)
So how did our February Christmas dinner go? It was spectacular.
Kylie joined us, and using some of the tricks that Abi picked up at with Sarah at New Leaf – she, Abi and Marcia made a beautiful table. Abi moved into the kitchen for the first time – daring to make beet risotto to accompany the lamb lollipops that she insisted we have – even when I suggested that we go with the lamb chops. For dessert, we had the most decadent homemade chocolate and Kahlua ice cream to go with the cake a friend from Smithfield had delivered that morning. The wines were pretty perfect, and the conversation, especially with Nate and Kylie at the same table, was as lively as it always is.
Abi wasn’t feeling great last Sunday morning. She was dealing with back pain again, and hadn’t slept much. I spent much of Sunday morning doing most of the prep (baking bread, making ice cream, shredding beets, chopping vegetables, etc.) When she was feeling a little better, she came into the kitchen and laughed, “ This is my thing. I come up with a great and super-ambitious idea and then to turn it over to you to execute.”
There’s a lot of truth in that.
But to me, it’s a pretty good trade. Because every single “great and super-ambitious idea” that Abi has (Outwrite, Two Flounders, Advent, Sibs weekends, and a million others) is an indication that she’s choosing to live fully. And what a privilege it is to play any role in the very full life of someone you love.
It’s the actual best.
Merry Christmas (again), Flounders.