Our TV channels are awash with Christmas themed cookery programmes.
Whether it’s Nigella seductively insinuating a pound of butter into some mashed potatoes or Jamie boshing up a slightly untraditional festive offering, it’s just one delicious mouthful of gorgeous TV viewing after another.
By Mairead Moriarty
It got me thinking about the whole enterprise that surrounds that monumental dining experience known as the Christmas Dinner.
How can a meal, that’s supposed to be a celebration of everything great and good about family life, descend into a dish of recriminations and angst?
Brainwashed by‘Walton-esque’ Christmas Ads
It doesn’t help that we are brainwashed by all of the ‘Walton-esque’ Christmas ads and programmes on tv. In the parallel world of TV marketing, everyone seems to miraculously morph into a loving, considerate and caring individual under the magic of the mistletoe.
Why do we expect so much from each other at a time of year when everyone is pulled in a hundred directions at once? People’s basic natures will not change just because there are fairy lights twinkling in the background. We need to keep our feet firmly in the land of reality.
Timing Carefully Planned
The pinnacle of a great deal of repressed disappointment and grievances seems to be centred on the Christmas dinner itself. Not since the WWII landings in Normandy, has so much planning and co-ordination gone into one event. When to stuff the bird, when to cook the ham, when the roast potatoes get started … every decision and timing must be carefully planned to avoid the potential for an under-cooked turkey or, god forbid, soggy sprouts. So much is invested in this one meal that, I fear, we are setting ourselves up for a fall before we’ve even poured the gravy.
The Magical Formula
Before you imagine I am about to reveal the magical formula that will reduce all of these tasks to a manageable format, let me point out that this is neither my intention nor indeed my job. As a Life Coach, working with clients across many ages and genders, I hear the usual cries of woe during and after Christmas. So rather than give you the step by step guide to delivering the meal of meals, I am instead going to focus on the three phrases that I hear most after Christmas when I talk to my clients who are tasked with the chore of bringing the dinner to table on 25th.
Battle Cry of the Underappreciated
1. “I don’t know why I bother”.
This phrase is the battle cry of the underappreciated cook who has traipsed the length and breadth of the county in search of the best and most unusual ingredients. They’ve trawled through cookbooks, watched numerous cookery channels, spent a goodly time dressing the table and all for what?
Well, to thrill and delight their grateful family, of course?
Except of course the ‘grateful’ family have been out on the tiles leading up to and including Christmas Eve. These party-heads surface on 25th a broken, hung over mess.
Barely climbing out of the Xmas PJs in time to relish the feast placed before them, they half-heartedly push the food around their plates before crawling to a sofa to retire for the afternoon under a coating of sweet wrappers.
Family of Booze Hounds
If your family is made up of more than its fair share of booze hounds who pass Christmas Day is a miasma of slothdom, this is my magic recipe for you.
RECIPE – Enjoy every minute of the preparation and presentation of the dinner for your own sake. In other words, if your every effort is a silent way of garnering love, praise and thanks then you are going to be wholly disappointed. In fact, this is a rule you should apply to every part of your life: take on chores and actions for the pleasure and joy they give you and not for the heaps of praise you hope to win from others.
The Walking Wounded
If you already have a sneaking suspicion that your divine dinner might not be truly appreciated, then my next suggestion is that for every hour you expect your family will spend partying prior to Christmas dinner you shave another layer of complication off the finished product.
I’m not suggesting you dish up beans on toast to the walking wounded on Christmas Day but cook a very nice Christmas dinner with the basic trimmings. Open a few packets to create a starter. What’s the difference between a dinner you’ve taken days to create as opposed to one that’s a small step up from a good Sunday Roast? The answer is: Very Little – especially to an unappreciative audience. Whatever time you recoup cutting those corners must be spent doing something lovely for yourself.
2. ‘Well I’m Gad That’s Over’
This is the statement of the individual who, for whatever reason, views the dinner on 25th as a huge anxiety-inducing hurdle merely to be overcome. It’s usually the reaction of cooks who lack faith in their abilities or are quite over-loaded with obligations outside the home that find the dinner on 25th a most unwelcome hassle to deal with. Here’s my recommendation for you.
RECIPE – Step 1
First of all, please remember the valuable purpose of Christmas dinner isn’t actually about food. It’s more an opportunity for family and friends to sit down together and celebrate the wonderful things that unite them.
RECIPE – Step 2
Divide the responsibility of the dinner preparation among the guests. Give every person attending the meal a job. No matter how young or old, allow them to help create the day. Let them bring the starter, organise a dessert, be in charge of the drinks. A child of 8 may not set a Christmas table in some Instagram-worthy fashion but his/her effort is all the more meaningful for how slightly wrong the outcome might be. Remember, the quest for perfection is the first step to unhappiness. Getting everyone involved in whatever small way, will take the pressure off you and bring a sense of togetherness to the whole process.
RECIPE – Step 3
‘Next year we’re going to a Hotel.’
If you are completely ground down by the preparation and presentation of the dinner and feel that a delightful Christmas lunch in a hotel might be heavenly then, just do it! If there are huge objections to this suggestion from family members who claim it ‘just won’t feel Christmassy’ then hand them the apron and stand right back. They can take over the full responsibility of the dinner while you sit back, enveloped in a cloud of Chanel No.5 slightly embalmed in gin, waiting for someone, hot and bothered, calling you to the laden table at the appointed time. It’s all very well for family to have opinions about what they do and don’t want at Christmas provided they back their opinions up with solid actions. The Rule is: If you don’t contribute any of the effort, you don’t get a vote!
Lunch in a Hotel
RECIPE: Have a gorgeous lunch in a Hotel. Get dressed up, be civilised and enjoy a beautiful meal in festive surroundings. The first rule of happiness is ensuring that you are taking care of yourself. This statement causes so much difficulty for Irish people. I hear “But that’s so selfish” implying that if we aren’t martyring ourselves in some medieval way, we aren’t in tune with the essence of being a good human being. My answer to this is that taking care of yourself is a bit like putting on your oxygen mask on a flight before tending to your loved ones. By caring for yourself you can be more valuable to those around you as well as setting a really healthy example to your offspring about how to live a meaningful life.
Conclusion: Recipes for a Happier Christmas
So, these are my simple coaching recipes for a happier Christmas. I would like to close on one wonderful tip that I bring all the way from my time living in the UK. Namely, get out for a walk on Christmas morning.
Once the turkey is underway in the oven, pull on some warm clothes and get out under the fresh air. A bracing walk in the countryside, along a beach or even in the town park is the perfect starter to a wonderful Christmas lunch.
As we all know, taking on the outdoors after a hearty lunch is never likely but that bracing walk pre-dinner – regardless of the weather – adds that special sauce to the wonderful dinner waiting back home. This walk provides that brief interlude before teens disappear down the rabbit hole that is social media, it also helps clear any cobwebs induced by a little too much Christmas spirit the night before, and, of course, if you have dogs, it’s the ultimate present for them too!
Have a wonderful Christmas!
Mairead Moriarty is a Life Coach working in Co. Kerry. 086 85 96 409.