“I’ll have Christmas at my house. You can do Thanksgiving.”
“But I did Thanksgiving last year and I undercooked the turkey and almost made everyone sick! I don’t want Thanksgiving. It’s too much for me. Why can’t our cousins ever host? They always come here with one cheap little bottle of wine, stuff their faces and then ask to take home leftovers!”
This is the same conversation I have with my family every year when the holidays approach. Somehow what was once a treasured time to celebrate special days with loved ones has morphed into a violent game of Hostess Dodgeball, wherein participants desperately attempt to avoid being pelted by the dreaded holiday hosting obligations.
If my grandmother were still alive, I often wonder if she’d be the stereotypical grandma who would happily host every occasion from A-Z, force-feeding us endless mozzarella-covered entrees and homemade Italian pastries. She would have been the kind of grandma who hosted every holiday, no questions asked. In fact, she would be downright insulted by the suggestion of someone else hosting a holiday.
But my sweet grandmother passed away in 1987 and thus the hosting wars began. When I was a kid, the holidays were mostly a ping-pong match between my mother’s house and my aunt’s house. We have a fairly small family so the options were always limited. Now that I’m an adult and can cook a turkey all by myself (well, sort of), I’ve been thrown into the narrow pool of potential holiday hosts. And I have to say, it’s been a cranberry sauce- and gravy-soaked nightmare.
It’s not that I don’t love seeing my family. We’re spread between Staten Island, Brooklyn and New Jersey, so it’s always a pleasure to get together and make up for time lost. But it’s never much of a picnic for the flustered hostess du jour. While everyone else is catching up, sipping wine and nibbling appetizers, the hostess is chained to a hot stove. Sweat covers her brow and oven mitts fly off and on her busy hands as she simultaneously chops, preps, fries, roasts, sautés, braises, and mashes — all while silently praying the food won’t be freezing and tasteless by the time it makes to the table.
Even if dinner is perfectly warm and delicious, there will still be a few unhappy campers. It’s almost impossible to please everybody. In my family, for example, some people don’t eat meat, some people only eat meat, and some are on a never-ending low-fat, low-carb, low-calorie diet. One person refuses to eat anything with garlic or onions, another person is lactose intolerant, and yet another can’t eat anything chewy. And that’s not even counting all the picky kids!
Hosting is a costly endeavor as well. Even if you’re lucky enough to have relatives who contribute, pot-luck style, bringing home-cooked dishes of their own creation instead of cheap bottles of wine (I’m looking at you, cousin Jen), you’ll still be stuck with a hefty grocery tab. You really try to keep it simple, but it always adds up.
After all the shopping and pre-cooking is complete, you’ve got to whip the house into shape. There’s always that one painfully rude relative who never fails to point out the dust on the fan blades or the loose Cheerio that rolled under the kitchen table. Who needs that? So before the oven goes on, the old mop and broom are the stars of the show. I sweep before the sun comes up whenever I’m hosting because I‘ve learned (the hard way) how counterproductive it can be to wash a floor while children are around. My back will break but my floors will shine! That rude relative will have nothing to say this year.
Your own family doesn’t help the situation at all. The kids’ instructions are simple: get dressed, stay clean, and stay out the way. You enlist your husband’s help with the seemingly simple task of keeping them occupied all day. And maybe he does—until football starts, of course (I mean, at least set the table first hun!). Then they’re chasing each other around the kitchen, sticking their fingers in the food, messing up their pretty holiday outfits, and whining because Daddy shut off their cartoons to watch sports. You’re ten seconds from losing your mind and no one seems to even care.
If you’re anything like me, you’re already burnt out long before the guests arrive. You’ve been scrubbing since dawn, cooking since Tuesday, and dreading it all since the day you agreed to host in the first place. But, like the perfect hostess you are, you grab an apron, dole out some welcome hugs, and power through the exhaustion. And somehow you do it all with a smile on your face, you rock star you! Too bad you don’t feel like one.
They say there’s no place like home for the holidays. But I respectfully disagree.
By Jeannine Cintron, a Staten Island mom of two who is NOT hosting any holidays this year. Read her blog at www.highchairsandheadaches.com.