Until I was 16, I only knew holidays with my tiny family. It was generally just my brothers, my mother, my grandparents and me – and we all got along very well so there was never drama or fights. But then I started dating – which meant blending traditions and scheduling holidays. He had a large family and they lived all within a couple blocks on land they’d settled when they moved in ages ago. They’d all come together at his grandma’s house where a feast prepared singlehanded by gramma in the last 24 hours would be served up buffet style over the countertops in the kitchen. Any space that could hold a bowl or a pan had one – with a spoon inside and a dishtowel wrapped around the bottom of the pan/bowl.
There were 2 turkeys, a ham, a roast beef, beef stuffing, turkey stuffing, cornbread stuffing, dressing (which was not stuffing but looked and tasted just like stuffing) string bean casserole, scalloped potatoes, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, sweet potatoes without marshmallows, corn salad, cracker salad, and a gigantic punch bowl full of ambrosia (fruit salad with coconut and tiny marshmallows). and two pans of pre made dinner rolls, sweet tea, saccerine tea, un-sweet tea (even the babies drank tea in the bottles) pumpkin pie, sugar free pumpkin pie, pecan pie, sugar free pecan pie, grandpa’s angel food cake with strawberry sauce,
There were two dining spaces that once upon a time made logical sense and probably worked quite well when there weren’t that many of them. The dining room table with all its leaves in filled the dining room from end to end. It was easier to go out the back door and come in the front door to get from kitchen to living room then try to swerve and wind around the edges of the dining room. Seats were not labeled, but were assigned and had been for the previous 20-30 years. Someone had to die before their seat was passed on to a younger family member.The glasses were the good crystal and the dishes were the good china only brought out on holidays. Chairs were butted side to side around the table almost making a bench, and it became unclear where one chair ended and another started as they jammed the same set of grammas, grandpas, moms, dads, aunts, uncles, and cousins around the table. The kids table was in the kitchen, and again, once upon a time it was great. The kitchen table could providing dining space for upto 6 people or a few more kids. When they were all kids and there was only 5 of them, everything was great – but then those 5 grew up and got partners and had kids – but all were still stuck at the “kids table” – which was serving 3 generations of “kids” while the grown up table still had the same group year after year. The kids table became a “shift thing” where anyone 30 and under who could not fit in the kitchen would wait in the living room, again, walking around the house instead of through the “grown up dining area”
Eventually, the kids quit coming to eat dinner at that house – and of course feelings were hurt. No one understood. It simply became more work than fun. The tiny 6 seat dinette in the kitchen got smaller and smaller and the kids got larger and larger, in every way. The decision to attend that celebration anymore was a very tough one, but it had to happen. This was an old Southern family – tradition was all they had left – and they weren’t letting go of it. Kids were seen and not heard – and the South doesn’t do change or moving forward very well at all. So the chairs at the “grown up table” were un-available and non-negotiable. Literally, the only way for a chair to open up was for someone who had a chair to pass on – and no one wished that – so we just went somewhere else.
It was baffling to me why people would chose to continue and activity that obviously wasn’t working for anyone simply because “tradition”. When “Because this is how it’s done” is the only answer coming back, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the whys. Especially when there’s special needs involved. We need to start putting the kids at the good tables, not hiding them out of the way. Quality over quantity and communication over tradition. This was over 20 years ago – though – and I lost touch with that family before that. Maybe things changed after I left.