To my mother, holiday meals were serious business.
Two days before dinner we would dress the table. On a freshly ironed embroidered tablecloth, Mom set out the good china, crystal goblets, and folded cloth napkins using holiday rings. She ensured all family members were accounted for and sometimes even placed folded name cards at each seat. The day of the dinner Mom donned her ladybug apron over her dress, placed the meal plan on the refrigerator and checked off each dish as she prepared it. She accounted for all the details and expected the evening to go as planned.
I somehow found comfort knowing what would happen at holiday dinners.
With Mom in charge, nothing would go wrong. I was trained to know where everyone would sit and what conversations to avoid with the uncles after they had a few drinks. The evening would end with the family card game (with Grandma cheating as usual).
The year my older sister entered college; things changed.
My father, who usually stayed out of my mother’s detailed plans, spoke up. He insisted my sister bring a friend home from college to share in the family meal. What? Bring a stranger to a holiday dinner with the family? Bringing an outsider in our home seemed almost like a violation of privacy.
Our family was a tight-knit group.
The only other time a new person came to a holiday dinner was when my uncle brought a young woman to meet our family before he proposed marriage. Not just anyone came to a family holiday at our home. My young mind did not understand why Dad wanted to break tradition.
After further conversation, my dad explained that many college students whose homes were out of state could not afford to visit family for the holidays. He went on to share his experiences both at boarding school in High School and in college. He highlighted how much it meant to him when he received an invitation to a family dinner. Because of this past hospitality, Dad wanted to reciprocate through us.
He let us know that anytime we had a friend that needed a place to go, our home was open.
I learned much from my father about hospitality that year. The well-prepared meal, no matter how beautifully set, did not mean much if we did not leave room for others needing companionship.
“for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,”