Open the gift of holiday dinners

holiday mealsI look at holiday dinners as an endless gift exchange – but probably not in the way you're thinking. Instead of presents wrapped in paper and topped with bows, holiday gatherings offer the gift of refreshment and a welcome contrast to the busyness of life.

Not just Christmas or Chanukah, but any holiday dinner has gifts to open. I’m thankful we don’t have drive-through holiday dinners. That would be like fast-forwarding through life! From the beginning to end of holiday gatherings – let’s take time to unwrap different these gifts together.

What’s your favorite gift?

I enjoy seeing the theme and twinkling lights and decorations throughout the house, the flower arrangement on the table, and the hosts dressed in themed attire, like lederhosen from Germany or African tunics from Tanzania. Your hosts may have been inspired from a vacation or a mission trip to a foreign land.

I grew up in a family that celebrated the holiday the same way every year. The decorations, menu and music were all the same. Now it’s fun to be a part of a family who is more creative -it is such an inspiration. What themes have you planned for your holiday dinners? I think of the theme as the ribbon on the gift tying all of the festivities together.

Now it’s time to open the box – perhaps the invitation itself was the best gift because you are a dinner guest in a new season of life – away from home, a freshman away at college or new to the area. Greeted by smiling faces for a fun afternoon together, being included in the festivities, it’s a treat to be served a home-cooked meal and sent home with leftovers to break the monotony of microwave dinners and PB & J.  When I was single it was fun to invite friends and neighbors from different generations and international students to holiday dinners. The gift of fellowship, conversation, laughter and memories can bring value beyond words.

Are you surprised and delighted by the delicious meal, thoughtfully prepared down to the last detail?

With the savory smell of the peppercorn gravy for the Beef Wellington or perhaps it’s the buttery, melt-in-your-mouth creaminess of Great-grandma’s corn casserole (as you try to ignore the calorie count…)? Or perhaps the sounds of “mmmm…” when the guests taste the dish you brought to pass?

In many ways it’s the food that brought us together, and each time we share a meal we are sharing a part of ourselves and our traditions. What’s the origin of your favorite holiday recipe? Do you feel like you are creating a gift when you make a holiday meal?

As the celebration goes on after the meal, we play games, tell stories, and take a long walk in the woods to work off the big dinner. I like to think of these activities like the nested gift boxes inside of each other. We often play a silly game that generates laughter.

At Easter, for example, it’s Peter Rabbit. Adult guests sit in a circle, and the story is read aloud very quickly. Each time Peter Rabbit’s name is spoken, we have a bag with a secret prize that we must quickly pass to the right.  You can shake and squeeze the bag, but it’s hard to tell exactly what’s inside. And when the story is over and you’ve heard Peter Rabbit for the last time, the bag you’re holding contains your gift. Surprise – it could be one of Great-grandma’s pink, feathered pill hats, or bubble bath and candy.

Although you wouldn’t want to miss the celebration altogether, maybe it was your turn to work this year as a nurse in the ER, the policeman on his beat or the tireless voice in customer service. Aside from leftover food, you got a different kind of gift this year – since it is better to give than receive.

With all the gifts opened, and the food savored – you’ve come to realize the best gift of the day is the entire package – quality time together with family and friends.

Share the gifts you unwrap at your holiday dinners in the comments below!

Back to the Family Dinner Table recipesEditor’s note: We want all of you to celebrate the family dinner table.  American Family is partnering with to create an e-cookbook to inspire families to come back to the table, and we need your help! Share your recipes for your chance to be featured in the cookbook by submitting a family favorite recipe here.  You will be entered to win one of six $100 Williams-Sonoma gift cards. One lucky entry will win one valued at $500! When the e-cookbook comes out later this fall, you’ll be among the first to receive a copy.

by Debra Hermsmeier on Tue, Sep 24 2013 3:34 pm
Posted by Debra Hermsmeier on Tue, Sep 24 2013 3:34 pmDebra Hermsmeier is a social media specialist with American Family Insurance