Dinner Bells, Dinner Bells…

“Hey, howya doin?” my boss asked as we entered the building together.

“Great,” I answered. “How was your holiday?” I asked.

“Good,” she answered. “How about yours?”

“Fantastic,” I answered.

This conversation was repeated about a dozen times today with small variations. I’m sure it’s the same for many people when they return to work from Christmas vacation. Fortunately, nobody asked what we ate for Christmas dinner. Not that I am embarrassed by the fact that we had a “traditional” holiday meal of eggplant parmesan. And, even though I said my holiday was fantastic, that was a bit of a lie. Like most families, there was a meltdown or two during preparation for and the observance of the holiday season.

Most of us are amateurs when it comes to assembling major events. That’s why most weddings include a disaster or two. Holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, qualify as a part of life that need the same amount of preparation and planning as a military operation. The more family members involved, the closer to a D-Day invasion it becomes. There is a reason why party planner is an actual job. And just like in a military operation, personal conflicts have to be part of the planning. Just like in the military, there are “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns” for any family gathering. You may be aware of which relative is not talking to another but you don’t know how they will react to each other during a large meal that includes alcohol. And you certainly can’t predict who might become involved in a brouhaha over who got the most whipped cream on their pumpkin pie.

Growing up as an only child with a father in the military, holidays were either very small affairs or were spent with relatives or friends on a much larger scale. As a result, I was exposed to a lot of different family traditions, recipes, and rituals. Kim, on the other hand, is one of four sisters and her parents often entertained large groups because of business. Conflicts abounded under the strain of making everything perfect for family and guests. Once Kim and I started our own family, we took a different approach. We started our own traditions and one was to not be tied to a particular menu for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Confucius is credited with saying that, “food is the thread that binds humanity together.” Exhibit A is a falafel restaurant in Florida that is popular with both Jews (who run it) and Palestinians who frequent it. Good food has a way of bringing people together and smoothing over their differences. It’s hard to be mad at somebody when you have a tummy full of deliciousness. For all of the disagreements in the Middle East, everyone there agrees that Lebanese cuisine is the best. So throughout the region, one can find Lebanese restaurants in which, Sunni and Shiite, Arab and Persian, Muslim and Jew sitting side by side eating great food. And terrorists stay away.

In this light, perhaps our decision to not make turkey the centerpiece of the holidays is not so odd. We do, in fact, have more traditional fare sometimes. For this Thanksgiving, as an example, we had turkey and all of the usual accompaniments. But this was an aberration and for Christmas we decided on eggplant parmesan and it was delicious. Our sons enjoyed it as well and are also adventurous when it comes to menus for holidays. Actually, they are adventurous period when it comes to food. I’ve never understood parents who say they can’t get their children to eat vegetables or exotic foods. We never had a real problem.

Of course it is probably because our sons helped plant, tend, and harvest a vegetable garden every year. No child is going to reject food that they grew themselves. In fact, my sons often ate their entire lunch right there in the garden. And every child imitates their parents from the time they first demand solid food. Our youngest stopped eating baby food in a Village Inn Pancake House when he was eight months old. From then on, he had a little of everything on Mommy’s, Daddy’s, and big brother’s plates. And when he insisted on putting pepper in his chocolate milkshake at two and a half, we let him. That’s probably why he likes spicy food like a vindaloo that makes me sweat just by looking at it.

So instead of complaining about how the tryptophan is keeping you from getting off of the couch, try something different for your next holiday menu. Connecting to other cultures through food will widen your culinary horizons. It might even prevent you from over eating. Your waistband will thank you.