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How fondly I remember chaotic holidays in the past when we had to add a card table to our dining room table to have enough spaces for everyone. We had the uncle dozing into his dinner, and my mother-in-law proudly declaring she was delighted that I had finally learned to make good pie crust from her recipe. (I used a boxed bake-your-own from Pillsbury.) The kids told us they loved hearing the old stories over and over again as they anticipated the punch lines, and friends were present for so many years they became family. And then there was the year we didn’t have much family nearby, so we invited anyone we knew had nowhere else to go—neighbors and friends and the relatives of friends. The essential ingredient was good company and happy conversation. That was a good year, too.
And then there was the year no one could be together which led to this year when the neighbors have their own families…and we don’t. Our family has moved away as was inevitable. We have a few options. First, we could attempt to travel—no longer practical in winter weather with myriad diseases lying in wait for unsuspecting seniors, and always expensive. This option is closely related to a second in which we find someone somewhere who also has nowhere to go and drag that someone home from the street (without violence) and hope they like our eating style and company and are healthy enough not to make us sick. Third, we could plan a silent celebration at home and pretend we don’t mind yet another form of lockdown. We chose a fourth option: we invented a No-Family, Not-Even-Christmas dinner.
What the heck? you say. The No-Family part is fairly obvious. Lots of seniors (and others) no longer have family nearby, if they have family at all. Others have family, but the collective dinner is not an event they look forward to with excitement—a masochistic obligation that promotes headaches. However, eliminating the holiday get-together on the holiday date is a no-go because it’s tradition and everyone would resent the insult and tell you about it forever. In contrast, a No-Family dinner doesn’t include relatives—only friends who enjoy the company of one another and who have similar standards of preventative care. Finding volunteers to join you will probably be simple. Which leads us to the Not-Even-Christmas part (which can be adapted to any particular religious or secular tradition).
What we have, then, is a happy, indulgent dinner outing (eating out removes the necessity of cooking and cleaning) on a day when most people are eating take-out pizza at home out of exhaustion, so reservations are readily available and crowded restaurant environments are easier to avoid. The number of diners may vary, but to keep contamination unlikely and expectations irrelevant, 2-4 works well because conversation is easy and you all fit in a booth. (Of course, city dwellers can choose meeting at someone’s house and eating delivery food, but that would require tidying the house.) Another side benefit of the Not-Even-Christmas aspect is no one has to bring gifts or meet dress code or any other expectations—unless dressing up seems fun.
The weakness of this plan is, of course, that you may still be sitting alone on THE DAY (perhaps Christmas) when everyone else is celebrating, but having indulged yourself with food and drink and conversational topics that suit you at your Not-Christmas dinner, you can relax on THE DAY, choosing whether or not you want to observe any religious traditions and having time to chat with distant friends or family by phone since you aren’t tied up with guests. So far, this plan has worked nicely for us. We’ve short-stopped the self-pitying sighs we might have swallowed on the day we’re alone. When you don’t like a situation, don’t complain; change it.