where DO you start when you are planning a Christmas dinner and your
friends and relatives include a diverse group of cultures and ethnic
From Christian to
Moslem, Hindu to Krishna, Atheist to "I don't care who God is,
just give me the pressies", catering alone can take on new dimensions
and provide some interesting challenges.
What will they
This is generally
the first question and probably the biggest headache, especially for
the culinary challenged - I'm sure we all know someone who roasted the
turkey with the plastic bag of giblets still inside! Perhaps you were
that person - but don't worry, you probably didn't do much worse to
it than most manufacturers had already done to get it to be "oven
and rituals should be observed?
This is another
killer question ready to trip up the unprepared host. some people get
very detailed about THEIR rituals - and I'm not talking God related
one's here. What time does Santa come? Exactly how many mince pies are
left out for him on Christmas eve? Which grandparents get to host Christmas
dinner this year and who has to make do with Boxing day instead? When
is the Christmas tree set up and decorated and whose turn is it to put
the angel/fairy/star on top of the tree? And, the list goes on - no
matter what the religious beliefs are, there is a whole raft of rituals
and traditions associated with Christmas time and upon which the entire
success of the occasion depends. Apparently.
Now, add in the
occasional vegetarian or vegan (what, you didn't know there was a difference!),
jew, hindu, moslem (you can't NOT invite your in-laws because they pray
differently), fadist (I only eat white bread toast with peanut butter
and it has to have the crusts cut off and cut into triangles), plus
a few toddlers (I'm making a castle with my mashed potatoes and this
is the moat full of gravy...), alcoholic (I don't eat), very old person
("only a tiny bit for me dear", but who you know is saving
room for 7 helpings of sherry trifle) and so on...
In case, you are
starting to get just a tiny bit terrified with the prospects of coping
with this festive season, here are a few ideas to get you started and
to ensure a happy Christmas time for all.
1) Invite everyone.
No matter what denomination
and don't get hung up on belief systems - Christmas time was a celebration
before Christ came along - it just had a different name then. Call it
Yuletide if it helps with denominational barriers - but you don't have
to ditch your own beliefs because you have in-laws coming who are of
a different faith. You can all enjoy the "community" of the
occasion, which is what the spirit of Christmas is all about anyway.
2) Food - variety
is the key.
Either check for
any big NO-NO's on the food front beforehand or have "options"
- like lots of different veggies, and hold back the sauces and dressings
for self serve in case there are hidden ingredients on someone's NO-NO
list. Variety is the key here - there is bound to be something for everyone
although not everyone necessarily has the same "something".
And, unless you're a proficient cook/chef don't try and impress someone
with THEIR national dish - THEY know what it should taste like! As a
final check - pretend that you're a diabetic vegan, with a wheat intolerance
and a nut allergy and see what's left on your planned menu that you
3) Set a new
Break the mould
of last Christmas and do something different - dare to be creative and
set your own style for this Christmas. Rituals can sometimes turn into
ruts and a lot of Christmas rituals are largely about recapturing the
excitement that we felt as kids, with all the glitter and sparkle, presents,
sweets, Santa, eating till we were sick! You can't turn back the clock,
but perhaps you're reliving it through the eyes of your own children
or trying very, very, very hard to pretend that there really is a Santa
Claus and he could just pop down your central heating flue or air conditioning
duct at any moment!
4) Your space.
It is also OK if
you would just like to be on your own at Christmas, in a quiet space
and self indulge in whatever way you enjoy. There is no law that says
you have to be jolly and merry, join in a crowd or be crawled over by
small offspring of friends or relatives. The spirit of love needs to
start with yourself first, such as the self respect for your own space.
After all, you can only give to others what you have within yourself,
5) Make it happen.
Nor do you have
to feel left out - if you want to party, look for one to join in with
or host your own. No point moping about and waiting for an invite -
be proactive - see what's going on in your neighbourhood, see if there
are any others in your area that are looking to connect. However, walking
around with mistletoe glued to your head may be a bit confronting to
many and anyway, they may not know it's significance if they belong
to a different ethnicity, so it could be lost on them entirely.
6) Respect EVERYONE'S
Be relaxed about
spirituality and religion - in general adopt an open style and encourage
people to celebrate and participate within the framework of their own
cultural beliefs. If they don't drink alcohol or eat meat respect their
choice - and don't feel that you need to convert them in order to validate
your own beliefs and lifestyle. However, don't be hypocritical about
the God thing either - if you don't usually say grace before a meal
- why do it now? Who are you really trying to impress? You certainly
wouldn't be fooling God, nor your family! Or, are you that shallow that
you need to impress strangers? Essentially - respect yourself, your
beliefs, your way and respect other people's choices too.
7) A quiet haven.
Set aside a room
or a quiet space away from the festivities, should some guests have
a need for prayer or certain ceremonies as part of their own religious
beliefs. However, a sure sign that the festivities are starting to get
too raucous is when guests start "disappearing" and there
is standing room only in the refuge!
8) CHILL OUT!
Relax - enjoy the
day and each moment. Don't get your knickers in a knot trying to do
everything AND make social chit-chat. Decide whether you want to be
- the chef, the waitress, the socialite or the "not present"
and plan accordingly. If you want to just party, then hire in caterers
or arrange a BYO function, where everyone brings a plate of food and
some drink - you get plenty of variety with this approach and everyone
gets to do their bit. If you have different cultural backgrounds, you
also get to try some new tastes too.
Communicate - especially
BEFORE the event - and let people know what they can expect. Let them
know if they should bring anything - food/drink/presents - or NOT. Give
them the comfort of knowing that they are prepared for whatever they
will be joining in with.
ONE FINAL BIT OF ADVICE:
The biggest stress
build up at Christmas is on those who try and DO IT ALL and expect to
have a happy time while they're doing it.
Decide in advance
1) What you CAN do,
2) What is THE most IMPORTANT thing to you on this occasion,
3) What you can DELEGATE
4) What can be left out if you run out of steam.
Then you can put
your energy into ACHIEVING the thing that is most important to you.
And, if you don't do everything - you're also already prepared to accept
what you couldn't fit in without feeling that you failed - because you
already decided it was optional.
ENJOY THE MOMENT.
ENJOY THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS.
Hargreaves 9th December 2005)
The etiquette of a multi-denominational Christmas - Hark.net.au