Photo: Members of the Stephenson family gather for their annual Christmas dinner, organized and hosted by the elder generation.
Story by Faye Bayko / Photo contributed
While I was growing up, Christmas dinners were always at my Grandma and Grandpa Stephenson’s house in Bentley. There was no choice, no alternating between grandparents. The other set lived in Dauphin, a town located two provinces away from our home in Red Deer, too far, according to my father, to drive during the winter.
So, we spent our Christmases with my mother’s parents. This meant that every year our Christmas routine was the same. The day would start with my siblings and I rushing out of our bedrooms to see what had been left under the Christmas tree by the mysterious man in red. We’d tear through wrapping paper while our parents watched blurry-eyed over the rim of their coffees.
Then, no matter how hard we begged to be allowed to stay and play with our new toys, we were packed off to the car, dressed in our Sunday best, for the 30-minute drive to Bentley where a menagerie of cousins, aunts and uncles awaited.
In my mother’s family it was understood that Christmas dinner was a must-do. There were no excuses. All family members showed up and participated.
So, a sheet of plywood would be dug out of the basement and, with the help of a sawhorse, Grandma’s small kitchen table would be extended to accommodate the group. It was always tricky for whoever ended up sitting where the plywood rested on the table. Sometime glasses would be tipped and the tablecloth soiled.
The meal was a noisy affair as conversations mixed with the screams of children competing for their parents’ attention.
Afterwards the women would gather the dishes from the table, sort and clean them in the kitchen while the men would find a place in the living room to sit and talk about their work-day lives. My siblings, cousins and I would do our best to avoid both groups of adults until it was time to go home.
I don’t remember the yearly gathering being especially traumatic but I was just a child. The annual gatherings stopped before I was old enough to understand the dynamics behind the forced meeting of people who don’t really like each other.
When my grandparents grew too old to stay in their home, neither my mother, nor any of her siblings, took on the task of organizing and hosting the annual Christmas gathering. My siblings and I grew apart from our cousins, and eventually from each other. Christmas dinner became a splintered affair spent over many small tables in many different cities. There was no longer a need to extend any table.
Looking back, it’s obvious that it was a different time. Elders had a place and value in a family. Gatherings were usually organized by, or around, them.
Today, gatherings are organized by, or around, a digital device with no human-to-human or generation-to-generation interaction. Elders are abandoned as redundant, their wisdom and knowledge considered of less value than that spewed forth from an AI unit. Meanwhile, the new generations scramble over each other in a mad rush to own the latest app or device being sold through the Company Store, few even knowing the implications of such a store, and possessing no understanding of the adjective: artificial.
There is, however, a trend towards bringing back the Christmas long table, The twist though is the lack of homage paid to the table’s history. Like all new generations, this one thinks they invented whatever they think is cool. (My generation, the Boomers, thought we’d invented sex.) So, the long table is back. This time with the present generation congratulating themselves on being inclusive, with one exception. Elders are to show up, keep quiet, and be glad they’ve been included. If they protest, they’re belittled and told to stop all the nonsense.