Hosting your first family Christmas is very stressful especially when your partner is planning to ring the changes
A fishy tale from our columnist
Before I tell you about my family Christmas as it is now, it’s important that you know what it was. Every year, for 40 years, it’s been the same. The whole family (cousins, nieces, nephews and partners) would congregate at my parents’ house for lunch. Same menu, same table layout, same arguments. And that’s the way my family like it. Nothing new, nothing exciting, everything expected.
I’m a Calman, and therefore have the DNA of tradition running through my veins, but I’m also someone who wants to give my mum a break. So, when my wife and I bought a house, I made the offer that we would ‘do’ Christmas. My mum agreed that the location could change last year but she, and others in the clan, made it clear that this was sufficient disruption and that they expected the day to remain exactly the same in ALL OTHER WAYS. This instruction was sent in a vaguely threatening email, which I imagine was composed as my siblings sat around the table with my parents in a Glaswegian recreation of The Godfather.
I was delighted and determined to do them proud, so the planning began. Except there was one problem – my wife. She’s strange. She likes spontaneity and change. She, at the first family meeting about the new Christmas regime, which took place in February, made a hilarious joke. She said that instead of turkey and all the trimmings, she would cook, ‘a Christmas fish!’ We all laughed and laughed and my wife didn’t. She said something about ‘new beginnings’ and ‘mixing things up’. We all nervously glanced at each other and tried to ignore her.
It became clear as the year progressed that my mum was concerned as to whether we could cope with the responsibility. I assured her that we had a list, we’d checked it more than twice and would be fine. This was in September. My wife sent a text to the family asking if we would all prefer salmon or seabass. Again we laughed, but even I started to doubt her. What would I do if she presented a poisson platter to my family? Should I leave her there and then? Would it constitute grounds for divorce?
I tried to put the worries from my mind as the big day approached and we delegated responsibility for various tasks. She would order and cook the food and I would do the cleaning, decorations and table setting. You may think I got it easy, but handing my wife control of the menu was like handing her an emotional hand grenade. She could destroy my family legacy in an instant if she wanted. But I put the concerns out of my mind. Trust is important in a relationship.
She spent all of Christmas Eve preparing. A conveyor belt of potatoes and sprouts appeared and were stored away. The plan was to cook as much as possible the day before, leaving only the pièce de résistance to be prepared on the actual day. ‘The turkey?’ I asked with concern. My wife smiled enigmatically and left the room. I took a deep breath. Trust is important.
The day arrived, the family descended. The atmosphere was tense, everyone was thinking about fish. We sat down to lunch, forced frivolity the order of the day. The starters were fabulous (my mum brought them, she couldn’t quite let go of everything) and we waited with baited breath. ‘I’m sure it’ll be fine!’ I squeaked, mentally preparing myself for single life. Then my wife appeared from the kitchen through a cloud of steam like culinary Stars In Their Eyes. She had a turkey! And what a turkey it was. Beautiful, tasty and traditional. My family cheered as if they’d won the lottery and tucked in.
Everyone was happy. The day was a success. And, as my family slipped into a food coma, I slipped out the back and into the garage – where I quietly binned the emergency precooked turkey I’d bought. Trust is important in a relationship.
What would I do if she presented a poisson platter to my family?