This is a Christmas story because our family cerebrates Christmas, but the deeper message being conveyed here has nothing to do with Christmas and applies to all of you who enjoy family get-togethers of any kind.
What is the most exasperating part of important family get-togethers, other than the necessity of inviting relatives you would rather not invite? Fortunately, very very fortunately, we do not have that latter problem.
My wife and I love to host big family dinners such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, but as the number of generations increased it seemed we could never find an appropriate time or day when we could get everyone together. That was when my delightfully-inventive wife decided to reinvent Christmas.
I know many of you, even in small families, have close relatives all over the country, or world for that matter. That certainly makes it more difficult to gather them all together around one table, but once again, that is not our problem. All of our children and grandchildren live within easy driving distance of our home. Our problem for many years was conflicting dinners. It was difficult enough getting everyone together when our children began acquiring spouses, but an exponential nightmare when the grandchildren acquired significant others. That is when ever-inventive wife took charge.
She carefully analyzed the situation, which she is very good at I must add, and concluded that around ten o’clock in the morning there were a minimum of conflicts with other competing gatherings. That is when Christmas Breakfast was born.
Early Christmas morning the younger grandchildren are busy investigating their new gifts and the older grandchildren have no desire to vacate their warm beds. Some families have Christmas dinners at noon, others at mid-afternoon, and others still around five or six in the evening. Nobody competes for our ten-in-the-morning time slot. Whoopee!
Okay, so what does a Simpson-clan Christmas breakfast resemble? Try and picture New York City rush hour without vehicles and you have a pretty close idea. We live in a townhouse, a long narrow town house. Fortunately the only thing that divides the dining room and living room is a sofa, which gets moved over along one wall. Our dining-room table, with insert, seats six comfortably. We needed some make-shift tables so we sawed a four by eight sheet of plywood, long ways, added folding legs, and threw some Christmas table cloths on them. The three tables, end to end, give us a twenty-two foot, mess-hall Christmas table that can seat twenty-two hungry celebrants. The most we have served to-date is eighteen.
How do we feed eighteen hungry people with an entirely home-cooked Christmas breakfast? It took us a year or two to get the process efficiently fine-tuned, but we got there. Our youngest son is in charge of the four-burner stove top and cooks eggs, pancakes and French toast to order. My wife precooks bacon, sausage and home fries ahead and warms them up in the oven. She also prepares fresh-fruit trays ahead and has them waiting in the refrigerator. Someone mans the toaster. Coffee is perked. I transport drinks on demand. No one trusts my cooking!
The youngest grandchildren are served first. Get them on a chair and collisions are minimized. After that, individual orders are accepted for eggs, pancakes, and French toast. With four burners on-the-go, it does not take that long to get everyone seated and eating together. As they take their plates to the table from the kitchen, they give me their drink requests and I deliver. Minimizes traffic jams.
When no one can put-away another bite, we dismantle the two temporary tables, return them and some of the rented folding chairs to the garage, and get ready for the opening of Christmas presents, which has evolved as we grew in numbers to primarily by the grandchildren. For them, this is their second Christmas, and when they move on to another location later for Christmas dinner they will likely enjoy a third Christmas.
Everyone eagerly awaits the conclusion of the children’s Christmas because it is followed by what we coined as the dirty-bingo gift unwrapping. My wife got the idea from a ladies party she attended years earlier, and fine-tuned it to suit our multi-age celebration. My wife and I buy twenty to twenty-five dollar-store gifts for all ages and both sexes, and wrap them up. Numbers are placed in a container and one of the grandchildren circulates through the congregation so everyone gets a number.
The wrapped gifts are spread out on the dining-room table, and starting with number one and progressing to eighteen or however many are present, each person selects a wrapped gift. Gifts are only opened after everyone has theirs in hand. Many individuals have no use for their gifts, and families can work as units. We then have a second round of number selections. The extra gifts on the table are also unwrapped. Starting with number one, each person has the opportunity to exchange their gift for one possessed by another, or an extra one remaining on the table. This round continues up to number eighteen or the last number. This individual has won the lottery. No one is left to come along and scoop his or her choice. The most desired gifts often are exchanged five or six times, and gifts can be traded by agreement.
With the conclusion of round two, some holders of the lower numbers are stuck with unwanted items so they have the opportunity to exchange their unwanted item for an unclaimed one on the table, so in the end after exchanges and trades within and outside families, most everyone is reasonably satisfied. The extra gifts remaining on the table can be picked up by anyone who would like them. Lots of fun and laughter over twenty-five items worth not much more than fifty dollars in total.
By this time the hour is approaching for the individuals who have a scheduled noon-hour Christmas dinner to attend, to be packing up and on their way. Others may linger and enjoy the company of their relatives for many more hours, helping with the clean-up process. The dishwasher gets run twice on these occasions. If there is anyone who has no Christmas dinner to attend later, my wife covers that base by cooking a small turkey.
Eventually, the house is quiet and back to normal after a wonderful family get-together. She has coined a priceless expression for these special occasions when we can get the entire family together under one roof.
“We are creating memories!”
© Doug Simpson 2012.
Doug Simpson is a retired high school teacher who has turned his talents to writing. His first novel, a spiritual mystery titled Soul Awakening, was published in the United States in October of 2011, by Booklocker. It was reissued in October of 2012 by 5 Prince Publishing as Soul Awakening, Book I of the Dacque Chronicles. For further details visit them at http://5princebooks.com/. It is available in print and eBook format through most bookstores around the world. Soul Rescue, Book II of the Dacque Chronicles was published in November of 2012. His magazine and website articles have been published in 2010 to 2012 in Australia, Canada, France, India, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States. His articles can be accessed through his website at http://dousimp.mnsi.net.