The Genetics of Hospitality
January 15th, 2017
Most days I see the world in shades of grey but there are some clear black and white issues that divide humankind. People who believe in matching family pajamas vs people who don’t. Or, people who like celery vs people who understand that it’s godawful.
Let’s add another dichotomy to the list: people who think the idea of packing dozens of friends and relations into their house on a Sunday afternoon is exhilarating and people who break out into hives just reading those words. I fall into the former category.
Parties don’t scare me because I have been in training my entire life – and I studied at the feet of the masters: my parents. When I was growing up, my parents hosted an annual open house that was the pinnacle of our holiday celebrations. They would invite eighty or so of their friends, neighbors, and university colleagues for “holiday snacks and cheer.” A first-time guest might make the mistake of anticipating Chex Mix and fruit punch, but veteran party-goers knew the truth. To my mother, the words ‘holiday snacks’ meant an incredible smorgasbord of finger foods. And we’re talking classy appetizers here, not cheese whiz on a Ritz cracker.
My mom was always on the lookout for new recipes and would collect them throughout the year. By November, she’d be narrowing down the list of contenders and by early December, the final selections were made and the massive grocery lists drawn up. That’s where my dad shines – the man has elevated grocery shopping to an art form and would scour the grocery stores of our small town and surrounding areas for goat cheese, fennel, or dried cherries.
Mom would ultimately fix upwards of two dozen different types of hors d’oeuvres – sometimes totaling four hundred or more individual pieces of culinary heaven. My job was to create name tags for the various treats and help her decide which of the many gorgeous holiday serving plates was best suited for each item. Should the olive cheese balls go on the gold-rimmed holly plate or the crystal platter?
The party was an evening affair and I remember napping on the couch by our Christmas tree so I’d be allowed to stay up for the big event. We got fancy, too. I’d wear a new Christmas dress and mom might put on rhinestone earrings. The first guests always started arriving fifteen minutes before the official start of the evening and the last friends straggled out long after the stated end-time. In between, the house swelled with voices and laughter and love. I’d circulate happily, sometimes with a plate of goodies in hand, pleased by my own self-importance.
In celebration of my new house and my Brave New Year, I hosted a holiday shindig of my own last weekend. With my parents cheering me on, I launched into preparations for my first big fete in my new home. Recipes were chosen, shopping lists made, name tags printed. My parents joined in with gusto, preparing cheddar pecan wafers and battling the coffee percolator.
As the guests arrived and the house filled with sounds and smiles (and seemingly 800 children), I felt a great sense of pride to be carrying on a family tradition of hospitality. For me, this is the measure of a well-lived life: a house full of light and love and family and friends. And chocolate fudge. There should always be fudge. My mother taught me that.