Does it ever seem like the new goal of the holidays is to avoid the holidays? The morning news shows urge us to eat at a restaurant or get take out. No need to cook. The magazines invite us to use paper plates instead of china. Just sweep all that into a big plastic garbage bag at the end of the meal. No need to work so hard during the holidays!
If I agree that all that is fine for other people, am I allowed to say that I will never buy paper plates again?
Nothing wrong with paper plates. But I figured out a long time ago that using my own china ($1 per plate from the Noritake factory when we were stationed in Japan!) is a lot cheaper than buying new paper plates every time.
Which makes cents to me. But I just found out that my china habit may be making other people uncomfortable. Last year, I heard from readers who thought that the whole china thing was too fussy. One reader noted that their lives were less formal now:
“When friends come over we cook out, play board games. I sometimes hesitate to use china because I don’t want anyone to think I am being too formal. Formal spaces are uppity spaces. Went to a charity ball and saw people who must use that stuff, but in my neighborhood we value comfort and friendliness more than ostentation.”
I never thought of the whole china thing as ostentation. I never thought of it as uppity. I’m not serving at the White House here. This isn’t exactly Buckingham Palace. No one ever comes to my Thanksgiving table but blood relations, dearest friends, and the occasional too-far-from-home sailor or Marine. In fact, the last time I used my china, one of my guests was sporting a Link costume. How uppity could that be?
Cooking a meal and cleaning the house and preparing a beautiful table are things I like to do. (Well, OK. I really hate the housecleaning part and I really, really need some help with the vacuuming and floor waxing and general dog hair pick-up-age that needs to go on around here, Family.)
The rest of it I love. I don’t resent the work of it, thanks. I’m not trying to impress anyone. I’m not checking what forks people use or criticizing their manners. I don’t need anyone’s permission not to do the details of the holidays this year as if they were empty rituals.
These rituals are not empty to me. I do these holiday preps because I want to and I need to. I do it for my own soul. Like generations of women before me, I need the marker of holidays to force me to put down my regular work and look up. I need to be physically reminded that time is passing with the season.
Paper plates don’t cut it for me. I need those Noritake plates on the table to remind me of the Thanksgivings I spent as a girl setting my own mother’s table with her china. I need those plates to keep me focused on the fact my husband is here for the holidays this year instead of celebrating with 300 other sailors on the ship. I need that china to reflect into the ever-changing faces of my growing children. I need it to remind me to call my mother and check how her turkey is roasting in Ohio—because she won’t always be on the other end of the phone.
So I agree that we should drop all the rituals we have that have lost their meaning. We should experiment with different ways to celebrate holidays over time. And we should cling to those little works and deeds that make us whole and remind us who we want to be.