HAVING GROWN UP in an Irish family that was thoroughly un-Irish when it came to rigid communal meal times, Christmas dinner was one of the few occasions when we all sat down together as a family unit.
The rest of the year we had a more casual arrangement where my mother, who is an effortless cook, would take command of the kitchen and throw together a delicious meal. Sometimes we would eat propped up on a stool at the kitchen counter, other times we would sit at the table eating while finishing off homework, and chatting intermittently with our mother and father who would inquire after our days’ events.
We did have quite a few Sunday lunches, which were slightly more regimented, but really Christmas dinner was as close as we would ever get to the ‘Downton’ style dinner en masse (unfortunately without the army of servants and cooks). Today, with all the children grown up and only my younger brother still living at home, it seems even more special when the rest of us – with our own families – descend on the family home once again for what is essentially one long drawn out meal with Christmas dinner as the main course.
As much as we all strive for it, no family Christmas is ever quite as perfect as the Brady Bunch would have us believe, but then who really wants one big schmaltzy love-in when you can fight over board games and uncover family secrets to be gossiped over for years to come? So when the inevitable drama happens, I always find the best remedy is food. Whether cooking it, smelling it, eating it or planning it, food in my family has always managed to comfort and soothe, and Christmas dinner, with all its festive tradition, is no exception.
Of course, as with any family gathering, tensions can run high, especially when the responsibility of preparing an enormous feast that is the subject of so much expectation rests in the hands on one slightly battered-looking mother or father. To this day, especially now that I am a chef myself, I am not quite sure how my own mother didn’t collapse in a heap on the floor beside the dog by the time the dinner was ready to be served. Having recently cooked for a client’s large Thanksgiving dinner party, I can testify that it really is a monstrous job. So perhaps this year we should all be a little more mindful of whoever it is that is donning the apron and offer to lend a hand.
Festive fun can be a minefield for family squabbles, but the wonderful thing about meal times and Christmas dinner in particular, is that food works as a great distraction. We are all far more concerned about getting the crispiest roast potato then arguing over who cheated on the afternoon game of charades, and once everyone has gorged themselves on all things plump and alcoholic, digestion takes over so nobody is fit for anything other then a good film anyway!
With so much of the Yuletide month spent in a frenzy of commercial excess, Christmas dinner affords us all an opportunity to stop, sit back and actually communicate with our loved ones, some of whom we may not have seen for some time. Yes that may mean chatting with your fourth cousin twice removed for longer then you might wish, but that is what breaking bread together is all about after all.
In our modern lives when getting everyone together for a meal can be a great challenge, we should be taking full advantage of Christmas dinner, as it is the one day of the year when, in most cases, you can be sure that nothing else can get in the way. So put away your phones and laptops, help out whoever is doing all the cooking and enjoy each other’s company while you take stock of what has come to pass for your family this year.
Jordan Bourke is a chef, author and food stylist. Originally from Dublin, Ireland, he has been based in London for almost 10 years where he lives with his wife Jina. Jordan’s first cookbook, which he wrote with his sister Jessica, is called The Guilt Free Gourmet and can be purchased from Amazon and Easons, where Irish customers get free postage.
Jordan and Jessica will be holding two cookery class/demos in the New Year, one on the January 25 and also the February 9. Details can be found on Jordan’s blog.
(Image via Jordan Bourke)