"How come you make the exact same food every year?" my husband asked. We are having our holiday party Saturday night, and we have divided up the chores in our usual way. He will clean the house, I will buy and make the food, and we will take turns threatening and bribing the children into helping us.
We've tried to keep the party small over the years by only inviting family and friends we've known so long that they seem like family, but since we have both lived in this area our whole lives, even that list gets pretty big. We will likely have anywhere from 60 to 100 guests at the party. If you saw the size of our house, you would realize how ridiculous the party is. We will have people standing in the bedrooms, the hallway, the laundry room, and every available space. We may do a bonfire in the backyard this year just to move some teenage bodies into a different space.
And the reason I make the same food every year is because it's efficient. Sure, it might be boring to eat the same meal over and over again, but when you have a whole year in between, I think people have time to cleanse their palette. I have a shopping list on my computer, and each year, after the party is over, I make any adjustments I think I will need for the next year. I can look at the list, for instance, and know that last year for the punch I used 12 quarts of Sprite, 6 containers of frozen lemonade, 6 big bottles of cranberry juice, a bag of lemons, and a bag of ice. People who want to be helpful and bring something, which is almost everyone who comes to the party, know what I am making so they know what to bring -- a whole lot of desserts to balance off all the healthy stuff.
And everyone knows ahead of time what their jobs are because everything stays the same from year to year. My mother is in charge of making batches of rice in the microwave and refilling the covered casserole dish we keep the rice in. My father is in charge of putting logs on the fire. Blonde Sister will make the garlic pizzas, cut them up, and pass them around. Blond Brother-in-law will adjust the seasonings on the big pots of chili, stir them occasionally, and refill the punch bowl when it gets low. My kids and nieces know to gather used bowls, mugs, and dirty silverware, and pile them into the laundry baskets on top of the washer and dryer, where they will sit until they can be washed the next day.
Everyone in the family knows to guard the piano and stop anyone from setting a drink on it. (The other musical instruments and various fragile items will be piled into my bedroom, which we then lock.) The boys' bedroom becomes the place where little kids can hang out: we have big bins of wooden train tracks and trains because I used to take trips to a place where I could buy them wholesale. The teenagers will crowd into my daughter's tiny bedroom, piled on the bed and sitting on the floor on top of a big pile of coats.
The big crush of people will arrive at 6 pm and stay until about 10 pm. Then the second party will begin – a more relaxed group who will sit in front of the fire and start eating again. Some of us will do some clean-up in the kitchen area while others will bring the musical instruments out of hiding and begin to play.
Almost every person who comes to the party will be someone I've known for at least twenty years – or since birth, in many cases. For example, Oldest Friend and I went to kindergarten together. She will come with her husband, whom I have known since first grade, and perhaps bring her mother, who was the fourth grade teacher for all of my siblings and my two oldest kids. The teenagers and college students at the party will all be young people I've known since birth: always at least one young person will bring a new boyfriend or girlfriend to meet everyone. (I've heard that it's a pretty intimidating experience.)
As much as I love making new friends, it's nice at least once a year to get together with old friends, with people I've known most of my life. It's nice to chat with their kids and catch up with their spouses. It's nice to stand in the kitchen and joke about stuff that happened years ago. And I like the security of knowing that ten years from now, we will likely still be doing this, gathering in my home at the holidays, talking and laughing, and eating the same food I serve year after year.