Host­ing your first fam­ily Christ­mas is very stress­ful es­pe­cially when your part­ner is plan­ning to ring the changes

Good Housekeeping (UK) - - Contents - Su­san Cal­man

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?

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