Christmas morning and the house is quiet. The silver utensils and china from last night’s dinner are stacked beside the sink, as are the wine glasses and pots and pans. Our youngest son was quiet kind and cleaned the hand washed items so my wife and I could collapse after days of preparation and cooking. It’s a big effort, but worth every ounce of work.
I can’t think of many things more satisfying that having your family gathered around a big table for a celebratory meal. Sharing food in a communal setting is unique to our species. Sometimes our dogs and cats may leap upon the table to eat, but they’re not interested in sharing. Once the side of beef is in the pup’s mouth, woe be the man that tries to take it.
We bless the food, give thanks and recall those that are no longer with us. My blessings these days are largely secular. I leave out any references to specific gods or goddesses and direct my prayer to a general recognition of the divine, something that’s difficult for me to define, but that does seem to be there. I feel it at the shoreline and in the mountains. Like a Taoist, I see it in the uninterrupted flow of rivers. The interconnectedness of all things. In the miracle of life and the phenomenal complexity of the universe.
I don’t sense it on interstates.
As we sat close together, we shared stories from Christmases past. Humorous stories where no one was spared the opportunity to laugh at themselves. We passed food to one another and justly complimented the cooks.
Humans also use meals to impress. My wife and I had a whirlwind romance, but one of the first things I did was take her to dinner. The first meal was a favorite burger joint, but once I knew she was “the one,” I closed the deal with a fancy dinner at a Memphis restaurant known as the Four Flames. Despite some roughness around the edges, I wanted her to know I did have some level of refinement. I had promise.
Christmas Eve dinner was a celebration of love. We love being together and are now blessed with grandchildren around the table. Little Beatrice preferred the fancy water glasses with gold trim over plastic models, and who could be surprised. She’s my grandchild after all. My grandmother instilled in me the belief that the silver, crystal and Haviland china were necessary parts of the big meal ritual. It’s a way of telling your guests they’re a big deal at the big meal, so I like to bring out the ancient passed down pieces to show the importance of the event.
They’re remnants of my great-grandfather’s time. He was a prominent cotton broker that rose from humble beginnings in the 19th century South to a brief period of prominence in the early 20th century. It nearly all fell apart when the Bolsheviks seized his cotton in port and during the Depression, but he was always wise with money and fared better than most.
I’ve kept those pieces, as well as his mahogany Boston cane furniture, as a connection to my family’s past. I love old things, and fully recognize they came from a period when craftsmanship mattered. We properly built things to last.
Now another year is nearly over and what have I done? I give thanks to John Lennon’s lyric for always making me reflect on my personal balance sheet of good deeds vs. bad during the year. I conclude I didn’t do nearly enough, although I did take major steps toward living more simply. I was generous but will endeavor to give more and much more precisely in 2023.
And then, before you know it, we’ll hopefully be preparing for another year end celebration. Once again, I’ll decorate our little cottage for the grandchildren and look forward to welcoming everyone for the next feast.
“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” —Mother Teresa