It seemed like a good idea at the time. Twenty-one people for Christmas dinner. A great, big warm, fuzzy family gathering. Funny hats and crackers. Uncles dozing by the fire. Kids playing with their suitably educational toys. Like a cross between the Sainsburys and Tesco TV ads.
Yeah, well, that was then. In the meantime, I have come to reflect more realistically on the practicalities of feeding, watering and even seating 21 people. Even after emptying my mother’s old canteen of cutlery – last seen at the Relief of Mafeking – we don’t have enough knives and forks. Or chairs. Or glasses. Or possibly goodwill.
And that’s before we get into the clash of the various family cultures involved. How come everyone uses the word “always” so vehemently at Christmas? “Oh, we always go for a swim in the Forty Foot at precisely 12.04pm” or “We always visit my sister in Kilcoole for a drink in the morning”.
There are five different families involved in this affair. (And three dogs, but let’s not even go there.) Each has its own way of “doing” Christmas. Some like to go to a certain Mass or church service; others go to a particular carol service. Some like to eat their Christmas dinner early, others wouldn’t dream of dining before 8pm. Some like to watch the Queen’s speech, even if only to laugh at her saying “My husband and I”; others think ‘Er Majesty has no place in an Irish Christmas.
The centerpiece of each family’s approach is the time they “sit down” to Christmas dinner. Southside matrons ask each other in a confidential tone: “What time are you sitting down?” As I’m doing the cooking, I reckon I’ll by lying down by about 7pm.
Then there are the other peripherals. One family coming to us puts on a play every Christmas morning. Another lot go for a walk in the Wicklow Mountains. Yet another bunch schleps in from the southside to get Mass in Clarendon Street. And yet another family likes to feed the deer in the Phoenix Park.
There is the added element of uncertainty this year of an American contingent. I haven’t had the heart to check out what particular Christmas traditions are popular in the States, but I’m sure they have their own way of doing things, and that marshmallows will feature at some stage.
I haven’t set a time when we’re “sitting down” yet. Why? Fear, mostly. Whatever time I say will be deemed ridiculously early by half our guests and ridiculously late by the other half. Maybe an all-day rolling buffet is the answer.
Christmas. A time for family. Or five.
Dave Robbins is a columnist at the Indo and lectures in journalism.