Recently, as I was making a grocery list for my holiday dinner, I was reminded of a movie my husband and I saw this summer called My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The movie is about a wedding between a young woman from a Greek family and her fiance, who isn’t Greek. While the movie focused on the idiosyncrasies of the Greek family’s traditions, the main comedy of it was in the difficulty of blending extended families and their expectations, regardless of ethnic background.
My husband and I couldn’t be further from the heritage the movie depicted, yet we laughed in sheepish recognition as the two families tried to find some common ground for the sake of their children. Never is this gulf in our backgrounds more apparent to me than the times our two families gather together. My family is large and boisterous, with endless aunts, uncles and cousins, all of whom we’ve seen recently. My husband, however, is the progeny of an only child – his father – and a mother with one sibling. He has only one sibling himself, and of the cousins he can count on one hand, he has seen none since childhood.
Yet the contradictions only begin with the size and personalities of our families. My husband, whom I lovingly refer to as Mr. Velveeta, truly believes food comes out of a can and spices are like a ride at the fair: A little bit goes a long way. I, on the other hand, will chop it, peel it or blend it from scratch before I’ll eat something from a can, and I’ve never met a spice I didn’t like.
In the film, the groom’s parents are stunned when they arrive for their first dinner together to find a goat roasting on a spit in the front lawn of their son’s future in-laws. I remember just that expression the first time my husband caught my family in action, mowing through a heap of boiled crawfish on a newspaper-covered plywood plank laid over sawhorses in the carport of my cousin’s house in Louisiana.
My husband went hungry that night, since he would no more pull the head and shell off a crawfish – much less everything else commonly done to the carcass – than he would roast a goat on our front lawn. Finally, my mother took pity on him and peeled him a small bowl of crawfish tails and went inside to fetch him a fork, just like she does for my dad.
I wholeheartedly understand the adage that opposites attract. My husband and I could not be more different, and that fact is never so glaringly obvious as when it comes time to plan the menu for holiday occasions.
I spend the weeks leading up to the festivities pouring over cookbooks and back issues of Gourmet magazine and driving all over town to stock up on the diverse ingredients essential for the sybaritic feast. My husband, on the other hand, wants to know if we’re having mashed potatoes. He figures if the pilgrims or the Wise Men didn’t have wasabi, he shouldn’t have to eat it either.
I see the holidays as a chance to experiment and indulge in my taste for extravagant food, while he would just as soon not have an adventure in dining. I give him and his sister and mother a lot of credit. They still come back dutifully year after year, never knowing if they’ll be sitting down to a low-fat holiday meal (an experiment we tried one year), or one that embraces the customs and cuisine of Thailand (we were in the throes of an Asian phase).
But regardless of what’s on the menu, we all understand the real joy of the occasion. It’s the time spent together, catching up on each other’s busy lives. It’s the time spent as a family, celebrating the diverse traditions that make up who we are.
Even if every now and then we have to serve pumpkin pie with Cool Whip instead of bourbon-soaked bread pudding with caramel sauce.
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