Christmas Dinner

December 13, 2012

By Raleigh-Elizabeth.

Have you thought about what you’ll be dining on for your Christmas feast? Will it be a repeat of Thanksgiving? Or maybe roast beast?

I’ll confess: We don’t do a big Christmas day dinner. We do invite friends over for a nice meal on Christmas Eve, but we try to keep it relatively simple. Because even I – Santa’s merriest, most devoted helper – have to admit that by Christmas Eve, I’m exhausted. Between the holiday festivities, the wrapping of presents, the sending of cards, and the activities at church, I’m zapped! All I want is a good, comforting dinner that warms my belly and my heart. And doesn’t create eighty dishes along the way.

So we stick to a festive but easy menu. We always start with a soup, because there’s nothing like Christmas to make you want something hot and hearty in your belly. I like to make a classic pasta e fagioli, but some years, I’ve settled for tomato soup with a dollop of creme fraiche on top. (It’s very merry looking!) We usually make cornish game hens, which are easy enough to do and make us feel like we’re eating something fancy, even if the effort wasn’t much at all. And to round it all out, we serve brussel sprouts tossed with a mustard and caper butter and a nice, healthy salad. That’s it, and it’s always delicious.

The highlight of our Christmas meal has always been — and will always be — dessert. Forget the cookies for Santa or the chocolate souffles you’ve been slaving over. We make a birthday cake for Jesus, decorated and lit with birthday candles. This may be among our silliest Christmas traditions, but there’s nothing quite like singing happy birthday at dessert to ready our hearts for the holiday.

Come Christmas day, we take our “easy food” plan and simplify it one step further: breakfast (leftover cake) and snacks aside, we let someone else do the cooking. Someone else called “Anyone Else.” More specifically, someone else called “a beloved local restaurant that’s also open on Christmas.”

My mom, a single parent, used to treat me to Taco Bell and a movie every Christmas Day. We were always the only ones at Taco Bell (happily munching on our mexican pizzas), but the movie was chock-full of compatriots. Half the audience spirited in take-out chinese food, while the rest of us passed pieces of pizza from a box hidden under a coat, or dined on extra-large containers of popcorn we declared “dinner.” It was only when we were with my grandparents that we feigned any sort of holiday decency and got dressed in our Christmas best for a proper Christmas feast… but even then, we let someone else make it. And all dolled up, we’d go out to dinner, come home, and enjoy our time together, not doing the dishes. Dining out has long proved my favorite Christmas tradition.

And even though my husband comes from a family where 30 people gather round the table on Christmas day with belabored, handmade favorites, my mother’s tradition is the one that has made its way into our modern life. It’s our present to each other: food, shopped for and prepared by someone else. The table, set and cleared by someone else. And most delectably, dishes, washed and cleaned by someone else.

We enjoy a delicious meal, return home sated, turn on White Christmas, and spend the rest of the day enjoying Christmas and each other. That restaurants are open on Christmas day remains my favorite Christmas miracle, year after year.

What about you? Do you brave the holiday meal? Do you organize and plan them in advance? Have you ever  thrown in the hat and gone out for dinner or takeout on Christmas? (Would you even admit to it if you had?)

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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Grace@ Sense and Simplicity December 13, 2012 at 9:42 am

We do have the full Christmas dinner – turkey with all the trimmings, but I don’t cook it all. We get together with my extended family and everyone contributes to the meal. My mother and I bring the desserts so I just have to put together a cookie tray (which I bake in November). I love a big turkey dinner, but am so thankful I don’t have to cook it all and clean up afterwards.


2 Raleigh-Elizabeth December 13, 2012 at 9:57 am

It’s so nice that everyone is able to come together like that! Do you all live close to each other?


3 Cheltz December 13, 2012 at 9:48 am

Wow! All these ideas are sounding pretty good to me right now.


4 elizabeth December 13, 2012 at 9:55 am

Christmas ribs! Our family started doing this about 15 years ago, and it’s become our cherished tradition.


5 Raleigh-Elizabeth December 13, 2012 at 9:57 am

Yum… want company? Have hunger/will travel.


6 beth December 13, 2012 at 10:37 am

My family (like many others) does Jewish Christmas by getting Chinese food and going to a movie. I thought those two activities were for those of us who don’t celebrate the holiday, but it is awesome that we can all share in such a happy family tradition. Now that I am married to someone who celebrates Christmas, we get to have even more holiday fun with each other and with our two boys. The last few days we have been celebrating Hannukah with candles, latkes, and dreidels, overlooking our beautiful Christmas tree and stockings.


7 Raleigh-Elizabeth December 13, 2012 at 10:40 am

Beth, that sounds so lovely. Like your children, I grew up celebrating two different faiths – one at my mom’s, one at my dad’s. I have to tell you, I think it was the best of all worlds. (Especially come Christmas day when I was full on potato pancakes, christmas cookies, and settling into a movie with a box of lo mein!) The more holidays, the merrier.


8 Emily December 13, 2012 at 10:39 am

I’ve never liked the idea of eating out on Christmas because it makes me sad that the people forced to work aren’t spending time with their own families. I know not everyone celebrates Christmas, but sadly, most people who work would in fact rather be home with their own family that day.


9 SunnyDay December 14, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Totally agree with you!


10 Lynn December 14, 2012 at 3:47 pm

I worked at the movies as a teen, and would often get stuck with a holiday shift, no overtime pay included. I do my best to not go anywhere or do anything that isn’t absolutely necessary on holidays.


11 Raleigh-Elizabeth December 14, 2012 at 7:39 pm

I grew up in a home where people had to work Christmas, and as such, I’m always grateful to those who are there for the larger public on that day – and it goes so beyond the restaurants and the movies, but the ER doctors and nurses, the police, the firemen, utility workers, and so many countless others for whom the calendar day doesn’t guarantee a day off. My husband has had to work Christmas two years in a row – and this year he’ll be working from Afghanistan, just as he did on Thanksgiving, and as he will be doing New Year’s, Easter, the Fourth of July, and every Saturday and Sunday between now and then, too. I am eternally grateful for the hard workers that keep the world going not on just this day of celebration, but for all the moms and dads missing big holidays, little celebrations, birthdays, and school plays – and everything in between.


12 Laura December 17, 2012 at 7:28 am

I agree with Raleigh. Those people are going to be staffed whether I go to their establishment or not… so I may as well help them make some money on a day that they probably will not make that much.

Not to mention the fact that we all watch Christmas movies, football games, listen to the radio, etc. Those things do not happen on their own. There are people who have to work to make those things run (think about the janitors cleaning up after the football games and even the athletes themselves who may be in a city far from their family on Christmas), but we don’t stop watching the movies or football games because people are forced to work them.

As someone in a multi-religious home who has worked on Christmas, stayed in on Christmas, and gone out on Christmas… I have to wonder. Isn’t the spirit of Christmas to celebrate Christ and his teachings? Not passing judgement on anyone else’s Christmas traditions should be first and foremost in that vein.

I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas in whatever wonderful way they choose to celebrate!


13 Design Mom December 18, 2012 at 10:27 am

So interesting, Lynn! I had a similar but opposite experience. I worked at the local movie theaters all through high-school and loved working on Christmas day. All the customers were in a such a good mood!

Our family festivities always took place in the morning on Christmas Day and by 10:00 I was bored to tears and glad for the chance to get out of the house. : )


14 Leslie December 13, 2012 at 11:09 am

Family meals are wonderful. They can also be hectic depending on how many people are attending..and who is cooking. Have you ever thought about reintroducing your mom’s ritual for a year and serve mexican pizzas?


15 Raleigh-Elizabeth December 13, 2012 at 11:11 am

Mexican pizzas would be consumed at all possible meals were it practical. Because we’re in the military, we don’t have a ton of family nearby, but if we did, we’d love to be able to see the whole gang. We make a real point to celebrate our family meals when we’re together – but the way it works, that’s just never on a holiday proper. Sadly, it’s an eight hour commute to the nearest parents and twelve to the closest sibling!


16 Sunshine December 13, 2012 at 11:21 am

For many years we have been the only family in town with children, so grandparents and aunts and uncles would come to our house (pjs required!) to watch the children open presents and to eat a yummy christmas breakfast – something easy to make ahead and just pop in the oven, like cinnamon rolls or overnight french toast. It’s fun to drink your coffee and eat a special breakfast in pajamas with wrapping paper all around! The pressure is off!


17 Raleigh-Elizabeth December 13, 2012 at 11:23 am

Sunshine, that sounds so nice!


18 Katherine December 13, 2012 at 11:56 am

We host Christmas Eve every year and it almost always includes beef. I go all out with my husband as my wing man. Christmas morning involves pj’s, a leisurely brunch with whomever is at our house and watching our boys open their presents. My mother-in-law does Christmas day dinner at one of our houses and this year it is going to be mine. But, seeing as we just found out that my husband has to work, I wouldn’t mind heading in to meet him at a restaurant with the entire family and have dinner out. Of course, I have some convincing to do!


19 Jillian in Italy December 13, 2012 at 1:04 pm

My mother-in-law decided a few years ago that she would have her Christmas Eve feast (for 25) catered. And I think it’s the smartest thing. That way she can relax with all the family members that come from far and wide and the 9 grandchildren get all of her attention. And I have to admit that the food is absolutely delicious (Belgium really does have the greatest caterers!).


20 Raleigh-Elizabeth December 14, 2012 at 7:33 pm

What a smart woman your mother in law sounds like!


21 heather December 13, 2012 at 1:55 pm

I invited about 20 family members over for Christmas dinner a few years ago & made things I never cooked before. Chicken tetrazzini , oyster stew & a choclate something from scratch. It took weeks to prep and days to clean. NEVER AGAIN. This year I’m attempting to make my first roast for only about 8 people and they are bringing sides. Hopefully unstressful.


22 Megan Flowers December 13, 2012 at 5:12 pm

I keep it pretty simple. I roast a prime rib, serve it up with some mashed potatoes or Mac and cheese and either a Caesar salad or some kind of green veggie. For dessert either cheesecake or pie. This is my gift to whoever is here to celebrate.


23 Anita December 13, 2012 at 11:01 pm

I love doing crackers and meat and cheese. Sometimes it looks like Ritz and bologna, and other years we make cheeseballs (which are easier than they look), but it’s fun and yummy and easy.

This year, however, we are having an all-out turkey dinner for Christmas Eve, just like my dad had when he was a kid. He’s missed it all these years, and since my mom passed away recently, we want his Christmas to be extra-special.


24 Raleigh-Elizabeth December 14, 2012 at 7:33 pm

I hope you have a very merry Christmas, Anita. And my deepest condolences to your family… I am sure you’ll all have a very special Christmas this year – it sounds like you’re all working hard to make it a wonderful celebration already.


25 Jen December 14, 2012 at 12:06 am

we started a new tradition, a christmas eve party. we invite our friends, make it a potluck and have a big party. christmas day is just family. my husband does almost all the cooking. he loves holiday meals and loves making them.


26 Raleigh-Elizabeth December 14, 2012 at 7:32 pm

That sounds so wonderful, Jen! Hooray for new traditions!


27 amyks December 14, 2012 at 6:19 pm

We always did a birthday cake for “baby Jesus” too when I was growing up…lasagna or a chicken and wild rice casserole were on the menu for Christmas dinner. Christmas eve was spent at my “Nana’s” house with a full on buffet of appetizers and snacky type foods. I haven’t been home for Christmas in twenty years, this post makes me miss those family traditions, even though I am making my own memories and traditions with my children!


28 Raleigh-Elizabeth December 14, 2012 at 7:40 pm

I hope it’s more nostalgia than missing… but if it’s missing, maybe it’s time for a birthday cake! Ho ho ho!


29 Stoich91 December 16, 2012 at 4:37 pm

A movie/meal sounds lovely, but I’m with Lynn – I really don’t like supporting places that are open on the holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas. I know it sounds corny/hyper-critical/silly, but these places wouldn’t schedule people if they weren’t needed!

Doctors/ER Nurses/Army Personnel/Police/etc. are in a different category, and shouldn’t be compared to Taco Bell cashiers! lol :D They HAVE to do what they do on holidays; cashiers, not so much.

That being said, I know there are many people who celebrate OTHER holidays and are more than blessed to be payed overtime on holiday hours, then enjoy their family on a different holiday date. Also, it certainly is nice to have a no-stress, kick up your feet kind of Christmas after all the stress! :D Andy many people who DO work Christmas only work half the day, and get to spend the rest of the day with family. However, I’m not sure I”ll ever quite get used to the idea of service industry on Christmas day. It’s a little too hearkening to the days of child labor/etc. and I’d rather enjoy a bowl of cereal at home than a roast beef dinner at Outback on Christmas day.

Just my two cents! Still a really lovely tradition. Hope you have a wonderful holiday!


30 Kristen December 16, 2012 at 9:02 pm

We decided today to have lasagna for our Christmas meal. We’ll make it a day ahead and just heat it up on Christmas Day. It’s just my family of 5 and the kids love pasta over a big roast or bird anyway!


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