As we emerge from Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s, arguably the most sociable time of the year in Canada, seasonal gatherings are behind us, holiday lights have darkened and most of the decorations are packed away.
My world always seems a little lacklustre with the transition from December to January.
I’m wondering how we can keep some of the sparkle and sociability of the holiday season alive in the early months of the new year. We’d burn out quickly if we tried to maintain the pace of the last month, but I like the idea of finding occasions to celebrate in the dead of winter.
What to celebrate after the holidays? It could be a promotion, retirement, birthday, anniversary, engagement, or clean bill of health. Or you can celebrate St. Valentines Day, Chinese New Year, St. Patrick’s Day, Carnival/Mardi Gras/Shrove Tuesday or Islander Day.
And you don’t need to wait for a big occasion. I think it’s a great idea to celebrate the small victories of daily life: a trip planned, a project completed, a goal achieved, a skill mastered, a contact made, a path cleared after a big dump of snow.
A celebration can be linked to an event such as the release of a movie or TV series, a sports game, a performance. It can be built around a book club meeting, a visit from a friend in town on business, or a baby’s christening. As I look at these ideas, I wonder that we don’t have celebrations every week all year.
What does it take to make an occasion into a celebration? I think it helps to, in some way, make it different from everyday. Think of what made the holidays we just celebrated special. In part, it was decorations, special foods and beverages, music, and people coming together, and these same elements will make other situations celebratory too.
I’ve been re-reading a book by Canadians Jan Scott & Julie Van Rosendaal, called “Gatherings: bringing people together with food” (Whitecap, Vancouver, 2014), and found lots of good ideas. Several times, they refer to the wise saying that “It’s not what’s on the table that matters, it’s who’s in the chairs.”
Above all, it’s the people. Aside from physically nourishing bodies, what’s most important about food is the way it brings people together. Preparing food for people is an expression of caring.
Gathering with others around food encourages communication, forges bonds, and creates fun.
We might think of this as being true only for family members and old friends but, often sharing a meal – not necessarily a big dinner, but even coffee and cookies – with people you’re just getting acquainted with helps everyone relax and get to know each other better.
Jan Scott, one of the authors of “Gatherings”, and an event planner for a catering company, shares a list of tips, rules for easy entertaining, in the book.
Here are a few of them:
- Plan a meal where most of the menu items can be made in advance. I might add that even if a dish needs to be completed just before serving, you can often do the initial steps in advance.
- Prepare a DIY (do it yourself) anything - a taco bar, burger bar, bruschetta bar, potato salad bar, ice cream sundae bar. I’ve found that a baked potato bar is fun for a midday meal. Set out grated cheese, sour cream, chopped green onions, salsa, chili and butter and let people dress their own potatoes.
- If friends offer to bring something, accept. Wine or dessert are good options, as is a simple, easy-to-assemble salad.
- Make your guests feel welcome and special. Spoil them and let them know you were thinking of them as you planned, by focusing on details that make them feel comfortable.
- Play fun music. It fills gaps in conversation and creates atmosphere.
These last two tips are the ones I think are most important:
- Always, always plan ahead, making notes on menus, guests, timing, décor and anything else that might be important and relax. A harried hostess can contaminate the entire feel of a party.
Wouldn’t it be great to recognize the little victories and momentous occasions that deserve to be celebrated in 2018? The new year has arrived. Let’s celebrate.
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at email@example.com.