Traditionally, the most important time for family gatherings in the Neary household is on Christmas Eve, not on Christmas Day. This was begun by Dan’s father, Ray, while Dan was growing up.
In our house, family arrives anytime after noon, and we have a casual lunch buffet, with Dan doing most of the preparation. The menu is this: cheese spread with crackers, meatballs, little smokies in “Tony’s sauce” (secret recipe, ha), deviled eggs, a veggie tray, and shrimp from Absolutely Fresh Seafood. A platter of homemade cookies and fudge is set out also.
Then, we play games, rest a little, and maybe open one gift.
Around 5 or so, we go to a children’s Mass, and come back for a formal dinner. Many grand entrees have been prepared over the years, such as beef tenderloin, lobster, or Duck a l’orange, followed by gift unwrapping. This was somewhat exhausting!
Usually, we had places to go the next day, some that were hours away and out of state (to Iowa), for other family celebrations.
In the past few years, we’ve significantly reduced the elegance and work, by choosing to do only the very wonderful buffet, in mid afternoon. We still light candles, and use nice dishes and linens. Clean up is easier, for sure, and we still celebrate the joy.
Here is something I wrote a few years ago, on Dec. 27, 2015, when we served both meals:
As the dishes, pots and pans, cups and glasses and utensils pile up on the counter, I think for one second that this is crazy! More pans on the stovetop, a full dishwasher going through its cleaning cycle, and dessert is yet to be—are there enough clean forks?
The food is creative and delicious, the company divine, in fun and conversation! And help also!
So, when I go to bed at 11:00 on Christmas Eve with cleanup halfway done, I am not looking forward to the rest of the dish duties.
However, on Christmas morning, I get up so early, and can quietly clean a few items (while others sleep), looking out over the park, and at the Woodmen Tower with its green and red lights.
What I’m remembering is that time when Dan’s sister, Linda, taught me about messy kitchens and cleaning them up. In the mid 1970’s, she came to Omaha to visit, and cooked a Mexican dinner in our tiny Benson apartment kitchen, using every wedding gift and piece of equipment we owned. I was somewhat appalled at the state of our kitchen!
Then, we ate, and enjoyed, and after that, we methodically cleaned up dish by dish, washing, drying, and putting everything away.
And then, our kitchen was ready for many more cooking and cleaning up episodes. I hope everyone is enjoying time around a family table often!