November 13th, 2014

don't break it

Christmas dinner rituals

Hello, dear cooks. I come to you with an inquiry.

Every year on the first Saturday night in December, I host what I call "dinner with a Christmas tree." Meaning: I invite about 10 of my nearest and dearest friends to drive to my little tiny old creaky house in the country. We sit for about an hour enjoying appetizers and wine around the fire in the stove. Then we sit down and I serve a semi-formal dinner. Sometimes I follow a tradition such as a Hanukkah dinner with latkes and brisket. Other times I make a hearty wintertime meal like cassoulet or choucroute. I try to decorate the table accordingly. The Christmas tree twinkles in the corner of the room. It's festive without presents or obligations. This year is a combination of foods I like and that I think my guests will like too - advocaat (a Dutch eggnog made by me), garlicky roast beef with latkes, glazed carrots, panna cotta.

Once in a while I try to incorporate a small ritual or other element to make it memorable. When I had the Hanukkah dinner, I asked a friend to tell the story of the Festival of Lights; she went above and beyond by memorizing the prayer in Hebrew. I scattered gelt across the blue-and-silver table and we lit a sorta-menorah. Another year I handed out Christmas crackers and there was a lot of screeching and laughing as they exploded, and some of the prizes scattered all over the room.

My guest have known each other through good times (mostly) and some very bad times, where we have been there for each other. The list includes Christians, agnostics, gay, straight, single, married, Democrats, Republicans. We are our own inner circle. I would like to include a small, short... something. Maybe a Q&A. Maybe a small ritual that incorporates the holiday theme.

So I come to you this year and ask: what is a fun and simple tradition you might include in a non-denominational dinner to observe the season?

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