Holidays are great, but it seems very unfair to clump the biggies all together.
Luckily, we are invited to a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner every year, so all I have to do is concentrate on Christmas Eve — when the masses arrive in droves ready to eat, drink and be merry.
It has been a ritual for us to host Christmas Eve every year since I can’t remember when. As a younger woman, I found it very easy to cook for 25. Grandpa and I owned a restaurant many years ago, and I was used to cooking for dozens. I had a great system and could put together mass quantities of food over two days, set the tables, decorate the house, wrap the packages after shopping (no Amazon then) and trim the tree with new ornaments and the precious ones accumulated over the years.
Being organized was much simpler, and I am not sure I even used my now very famous lists! We hosted an open house for neighbors and friends early in the day, so that meant appetizers and drinks from noon to around 3 p.m., and then cleaned up and restarted for the family dinner.
I made sure I had exactly the same number of gifts per child and grandchild. The stockings with their names on them were hung over the fireplace and also filled with goodies. It was delightful chaos.
Fast forward to my senior years.
We still have our traditional Christmas Eve gathering, but I have to start the preparations weeks in advance. Before I started to write this, I chopped and diced and set things in sealed containers. Later, I will prepare my famous baked ziti parmesan and set it in the freezer to be baked that evening. This four-hour project must be done in sections now, since these older bones and my back will start screaming “Stop this now!” after a few hours. The meatballs are for a whole other day.
This year, Grandpa will have to do the lifting of the trays, as they each weigh about as much as a baby cow.
I am not complaining, but I think if I dared to go to the store and buy premade lasagna or frozen meatballs, there would be a revolution that would raise even Paul Revere’s eyebrows. I actually enjoy the cooking, just not the heavy lifting, so I am really grateful for the help on that part.
Since it is impossible for me to make ‘just’ enough for that night, I make an extra tray for doggie bags, or in this case, doggie tins.
I used to depend on B.Y.O.T. — Bring Your Own Tupperware — but that usually didn’t really work. Costco has aluminum tins, making this a non-issue, and I get to keep mine intact. I have learned some things over the years. To avoid any issues with food if someone can’t come last minute, I ask the girls to bring a dessert.
This is very clever, I might add, since baking is not my thing. One time, I served a raw-in-the-middle chocolate cake and was banned by Betty Crocker and Martha Stewart for life.
Huge garbage bags are set up for wrapping paper discarded in a fury of giggles. Timing, of course, is everything. Guests arrive, gifts opened, appetizers served, pictures and visiting, dinner, clean up, dessert, clean up. Hugs goodbye … collapse in a heap!
I’m so thankful Grandpa has done an outstanding job of decorating the outside. Our Summerset neighbors are enjoying the light show and the huge blow up Santa and Snowman that adorn the yard. A life-size Santa Claus made for us by a dear friend, who is now gone, graces the entryway on a chair and the wreath is on the door.
Every year, Chanukah is on a different date, depending on the Jewish calendar. This year, it is right smack dab in the middle of Christmas, which means different wrapping paper, gifts and the lighting of the Menorah. Our house is extremely nonpartisan, and I like it that way: blue and white on one side, red and green on the other. It’s like our own little peace talks uniting all in harmony and love.
December is very busy for everyone. My old-fashioned handwritten calendar book, instead of my phone or computer, is my go-to each morning. I consider myself blessed that it is full this month with visits and outings and even a birthday party for our sweet Cleo, who turned 98 recently!
These busy days are a tad tiring for us as we get older, but as long as I can still stand and have my lists, it’s Christmas Eve at the Luckhardts with all the gleeful noise, laughter and love that permeates the house we call home. Let the fun begin!
Marla Luckhardt is a Brentwood resident who works with several local senior care and advocacy groups. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.