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December 12, 2010

A Traditional Family Feast

By Elaine VietsChristmas-table-setting-main

Holiday dinners are more than food. Here are some traditions families observe each year:

The Organ Recital: The family feast begins with the traditional organ recital. The oldest relatives describe their illnesses and operations in loving detail. Words like "squamous" and "glioma" are tossed around like confetti. If you’re not used to grim medical terms, squamous has nothing to do with an inappropriate word for Native American women and glioma is not related to glee.

Some years, all the elders are healthy. In that case, they describe friends’ and neighbors’ fatal tumors. These tumors are always compared to produce, ranging in size from walnuts to grapefruits.


Appetizers: After this, the family will toss out some small tidbits to whet appetites before the main event. Here are some suggestions:

"Is Jethro going to marry that girl he’s been dating?"

"Is Rosalie fat or pregnant?"

"Why isn’t your son Peregrine here this year?"

"How is Maddie doing in college?" (Only use this if you know she’s flunking out.)

"Does Harold have a job yet?"

The Return of the Holiday Grudge: Cousin Lorelei arrives wearing Arlene’s diamond brooch. Her sister, Letitia, will ask, "Is that Mother’s jewelry?"

Diamond brooch 

"She gave it to me," Lorelei will say.

"I didn’t see it mentioned in her will," Letitia will say.

"Before she died, she wanted me to have it. You got her pearls."

The two sisters will perform a covered-dish slamdown and retreat to opposite sides of the room.

The Main Course: This gives the entire family something to chew on for the next year. Mother carries in the golden brown turkey, which is admired by all.

Uncle Burbage, who’s had way too much Christmas cheer, says, "Speaking of turkeys, the mid-term elections restored some sanity to politics."

A frost forms on the cranberry sauce. Liberal Lilly, who has vowed not to fight with her troglodyte relatives, ignores Uncle Burbage. "Do you have any tofurkey, Millie? I don’t eat dead meat. No? Then I’ll just have Brussels sprouts and Jell-O salad. No, no, don’t go to any special trouble for me."

Uncle Burbage, disappointed that he didn’t start a fight, waits until the gravy boat sails by and says, "How about that Sarah Palin? That gal’s got gumption. She really showed those Washington politicians."Sarah palin

Lilly’s vow for peace on earth and goodwill toward Burbage vanishes with a contemptuous snort. This is the reaction Uncle Burbage has been waiting for.

"Hey," he says, "you wanted more women in government."

"Good women, not that Twitter quitter," Lilly says. "Just because she’s a woman doesn’t make her an intelligent candidate."

"She outsmarted the establishment," Uncle Burbage says.

Mother removes the carving knife and fork, and finally all cutlery sharper than the butter knives.

Sometimes Lilly doesn’t rise to the occasion, or the bait. Conversation lags. That’s when Aunt Matilda steps in and says, "It was about this time that your Uncle Fred died."

This is the traditional end of the holiday feast and the start of a very silent night.





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I attended a lovely holiday party last night--wonderful food, friends and festive drink--and the conversation came to a complete standstill when a wine-flushed friend brought up the subject of the family in CT that had been robbed, raped, murdered and burned. Happy holidays!

Oh, it's times like these I feel grateful to be living so far from all the "relaticks" as my sister Ann calls the kinfolk. Thank you, Elaine. You put a big smile on my face.

lol, Elaine! I was a yellowdog union Democrat married into a family that hated FDR and admired Nixon. We managed not to sling the turkey at each other, one small step for peace on earth.

For years my husband's family was neatly divided along party lines, and so was our marriage. Now we're all on the same side, except for one holdout.

On that side of the family, anyway. In my family, I'm the lone holdout. Thank goodness we have a big family--plenty of scandalous doings to gossip about and avoid the whole political issue!

Last year, my uncle was in the hospital with a broken hip. His family stopped to visit him on the way to Christmas dinner, and he died! No one knew what to do or where to go, so we had Christmas dinner as planned and set a place for him at the table. Afterward we all fell apart. It was the most bizarre Christmas I've ever spent, but people were very kind to each other. Hope this year returns to normal, and, by that I mean something similar to what you've described. Thanks for the laughs!

Oh, Brunonia, how dreadful. Is it time for that terrible platitude, "Uncle would have wanted it that way"?
Karen, I used to dread visits to my Republican Uncle Ed's house for exactly that reason. Sounds like you knew how to cope.

When my Grandmother died unexpectedly on Christmas morning, the entire family was in shock. We gathered together as usual later that day to exchange gifts and to eat our holiday meal together.

Somehow we got through that day, but the big question on the minds of the great-grandchildren was what shall we do with the gifts we had purchased for Grandma. It was decided, for the sake of the great-grandchildren, to hold a gift opening. Each giver opened the gift they were planning on giving, told why they had picked that particular gift, and then told what they planned on doing with that gift now.

Most eyes were filled and cheeks marked with tear tracks by the time we were finished. Most of the gifts were unique items which were gifted to charity or to other family members because that's what "Grandma would have wanted."

Great read! I am just back from a week at my parents, helping them make the move to assisted living.* I love my brother but he makes Attila the Hun look like a flaming liberal. If I'd bitten my tongue one more time, I'd be tongueless!

*My New Year's Resolution is to start clearing out and paring down my house. My parents have lived in the same house for 62 years and kept everything. Everything. The books are staying, but I'm taking a good long look at everything else.

Oh, Mary, I did exactly the same thing after my father-in-law died, almost five years ago. It ain't pretty, is it?

Elaine, it's not easy being green. ribbit

I love the name Uncle Burbage.

This is not quite the same, but I put my foot in it the other day. Saw my neighbor for the first time in a couple of weeks. I asked how was his Thanksgiving. He nearly burst into tears, and said, "It was terrible. We had to put down Chessey." Chessey was their 12-year-old golden lab, put down on Thanksgiving day! How very much does that suck?

NancyP, you remind me of a story a co-worker told me. She went to visit her fiance's family. They lived in the country and had a private family cemetery, fenced. One grave was outside the fence. When she asked about it, her fiance said, "That's Uncle William. He voted for Roosevelt."

Mary, my mother resisted her move to assisted living, but within two days she was "at home" -- wouldn't have left there if we asked her to. She liked having friends to visit with, have meals with . . . activities . . . visiting pastor. At home becomes lonely when one can no longer get out.

Elaine, too funny and too true! A sense of humor helps!
From Story People:
Pretend Visitor
We stood out on the porch before we went inside & she told me her secret. Pretend you're just visiting, she said. That way you'll forget that they're family.

"that gal's got gumption..." *cringe*

Elaine, if you ever want to run away from home for a holiday dinner, you're welcome here...

Thank you, Cornelia. Most of the relatives from that post are gone. Holidays with my husband are much quieter and less, er . ..controversial.
Lovely story about your Grandmother, Peach. What a good way to say good-bye to her.

Holidays can be so beautiful, and so trying, and hopefully more of the former, and less of the latter. I am starting to say, I don't want to talk politics, and I used to love it. Make it a rule. thank you for the post, and the pictures-lovely pictures, not so lovely subject. Families, ya gotta love 'em.

Ramon, surely you jest! But you made me laugh anyhow . . . as did you, Elaine. I so hope nobody belonging to me ever dies at Christmas time. Peach, that was such a sweet solution.
And how you got out of that family with your tongue intact is amazing, Nancy.

S.Mary, I had the same experience with my mother. She dug in her heels until I finally said, "If you really hate it, we'll figure out something else." The staff made her feel so welcome that at the end of the week, she had absolutely no desire to leave. Her only gripe was that the cook made the grits too thin. "I like to eat mine with a fork, not a spoon."

Margaret and Mary, ditto for my mother-in-law. Once she found out she could roll down the hall in her chair and play bridge with friends from grade school, her last days were supremely happy.
You folks have such lovely stories. Thanks.

I went to a Christmas party last night, a once a year group of friends - I am the youngest at 51. In the last year in this group there was:

breast cancer
prostrate cancer
C. Difficile (me)
heart virus (2 people!)

Good thing there was plenty of other stuff to talk about! No politics please we are Canadian . . .

My family had its gathering already so this year Christmas is mine to do with what I please.

Margaret, I agree with your mom, I hate thin grits!

99% of the time, our family gatherings were my mom's side of the family only, since my dad & mom considered his side of the family to be "ignorant redneck assholes", which was true.

There was no political arguing at these gatherings, despite about a third of the adults present being Republicans. This was because my mom forbade such talk and to violate this edict would expose the violater to not only her razor sharp tongue, but her extensive knowledge of their past sins and pecadillos.

On the other hand, the big topic of conversation was always anybody who did not show up. I suspect this was one of the reasons so many people DID show up. I'm told that during every family gathering while I was overseas in the Navy, speculation on what trouble I might be getting into ran high.

Regarding assisted living, my Uncle Joe at age 88 finally moved into a facility. Within a month, he was elected king of their Mardi Gras parade. Wheelchairs, decorations, long hallways--it works, trust me.

He also has a girlfriend, or three.

Regarding assisted living, my Uncle Joe at age 88 finally moved into a facility. Within a month, he was elected king of their Mardi Gras parade. Wheelchairs, decorations, long hallways--it works, trust me.

He also has a girlfriend, or three.

My great grandmother vehemently resisted going into The Home as she referred to it. After breaking her hip climbing a ladder at 92, she was moved into a home and afterwards would exclaim 'why didn't you let me do this sooner'.

For many years Holiday get togethers did not exist because of various reasons which did not foster the holidays. I guess I missed some of the family disfunctions . Sometimes I would covertly call a relative and invite them for the special meal.
Each year the days were celebrated differently including friends, people who were alone or other types of meals.
Sometimes a sense of extreme loneliness would set in but over the years a sense of reaching out and meeting on important levels expanded my heart and mind.

Now, the years are percolting along and the best thing that we can do is remember to acknowldege others and find a way to include others. Happy Holidays to each and everyone.!!

And to you, too, Marie -- and all our TLC readers.
Doc, as always you make me laugh.
Ramona, I love the idea of your uncle with three girlfriend.

My Auntie-Mom makes great holidays. Mostly everyone talks about the food and how beautiful the decorations are. It might sound boring, but it's great. After the meal, and a few drinks, the family gossip gets going. It isn't really too bad, though, because Auntie-Mom is not shy about telling people what she thinks of their poor behavior. Over the years, the family trouble makers have stopped coming, and that's okay with the rest of us. Auntie-Mom is the best.

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