Wash the dishes, wash the dishes; 
The Christmas dinner dishes; 
Three generations in the kitchen all at once 
(Hawksley Workman, 3 Generations) 

My mother was the keeper of our family rituals. Fiercely independent and proud of her amazing turkey dinner timed just right, she would never accept help from us, her two adult daughters. She took complete responsibility for the feast from start to finish as a labour of love, even when it might have begun to feel too much. At a certain point, she decided to cook everything the day before, allowing herself a slower pace perhaps, re-warming the meal into deliciousness the next day. 

My mother owned Christmas day in our family, and we all knew that any other plans we might have made were best quickly reconsidered. December 25th was her day, and she relished having her children and grandchildren around her. 

She started the day by playing Santa, handing out presents with a little red hat on her head. Then on to a breakfast of eggs benedict with lots of laughter and excitement all around. As the day unfolded we enjoyed a slower pace with coffee, chats, and catch-up on the news of our lives, with perhaps a seasonal movie playing in the background. 

She would have the table already set with her best dishes. We would gather to enjoy our feast, telling her it was the best one yet, and on to the dishes we would go. Don’t forget to wipe the counter! Do you want to take the extra turkey for sandwiches? Who wants the left-over mashed potatoes?? 

Laughter, gratitude, and best dishes put away till next time, with three generations in the kitchen all at once. Our holiday rituals were embedded in the comfort and simplicity of the day, the sameness, the consistency, the safety of knowing

My mother died suddenly in April of this year. Now, we face December 25th just around the corner with a lonely feeling of disorientation … we don’t know anymore. As much as we might long for the comforts of Christmas with our mother, we cannot reproduce the day that she owned so completely. She is no longer there. Yet as I think about the shape the day might take, it strikes me that indeed … we do know. 

We will open presents together, deciding who will be our Santa and wear the little red hat going forward. We will have our breakfast of eggs benedict, now made at my house with everyone involved in the preparation. As the morning unfolds, we will enjoy a nice slow day in each other’s company, chatting, catching-up on the news of our lives, with perhaps a seasonal movie playing in the background. It will feel heavy at times as we reminisce and remember. Perhaps a family walk together in the afternoon will be helpful for a bit of lightness and a new tradition. 

We will do a potluck. No one could ever replace the gift of being taken care of so completely by our mother, with attention given to every detail of the meal. Yet we can take care of each other by providing our best recipes made lovingly. 

And then after the feast, on to the dishes we will go. Did you wash the counter? Don’t forget to take the extra turkey for sandwiches! Who wants the left-over mashed potatoes?? 

Laughter, gratitude… 

Put away the fancy dishes; 
Just to take them out next Christmas; 
Three generations are only together for so long. 
(Hawksley Workman, 3 Generations)

I invite you to watch Canadian artist Hawksley Workman’s performance of ‘3 Generations’ – there is such a wonderful simplicity in his song, exactly what I am trying to capture about rituals as embedded in the day, and across the generations.

© 2024 The Neufeld Institute