Come Christmas, my mother has two rules. The first is, there is always room for one more.
This rule has meant that Christmas in our house has had a tendency towards the unpredictable.
In fact, I can’t remember a Christmas where someone that I’d never met before wasn’t sitting at the table.
Whether it was someone she’d ran into at the grocery store that morning, a man from the shelter she worked at, or a friend of a friend of one of the pre-invited guests, there are always some last minute additions.
When she’d have my sister and I create the name cards for the table, she’d instruct us to leave a couple blank because, “You never know who might show up”.
This rule was never a problem in terms of food. Her father was a chef for the Royal Canadian Air Force, and so my mother inherited the ability to cook for an entire army.
Where it became problematic is that while figuratively there was always room, our table could only physically hold so many.
This reality, coupled with the sub-rule Christmas dinner is a sit-down affair, meant that you get really comfortable with the people on either side of you pretty fast.
It is likely for this reason (aided by the copious amount of wine consumed) that the post-dinner traditions got so unpredictable. I’m not sure what other families do, but in our house, Christmas dinner consists of a drag show.
In the early years, my mother simply required that all guests sing for their supper. For those too timid to stretch their vocal chords, a simple spoken word poem would suffice.
One Christmas, my sister and my then boyfriend’s brother got away with performing an out of water synchronized swimming routine involving a couch, shower caps and bikini tops.
You had to be there.
In keeping with the nautical theme, our close family friends (a brother and sister duo) were famous for a performance of a strange Siamese-twin routine of “Part of Your World”.
Their father surprised everyone by dressing up in a leopard print coat and doing a dead-on impression of my mother that year.
But the drag show took on a life of it’s own the year we plied my ex boyfriend with half a bottle of whiskey and had him dress up as “Jessica” and sing Santa Baby.
It was such a hit that the following year, given that he was the newest gentleman to grace our table, we forced my mother’s friend from high school to do the honours. He obliged after a few shots of Polish vodka.
A couple years later, I knew J was a keeper when I brought him home for Christmas and in front of my whole family and numerous friends (including the aforementioned ex), he dressed up with my future stepdad and the two became the ugliest drag queens in Christmas history.
Away from home, it is a tradition that I miss deeply.
Not because I long for the sight of bearded men in lipstick and tights, but because Christmas in my mother’s house is always an exciting event.
Regardless of who is sitting around the dinner table, how crowded it is, there’s always space to be wild, unrestrained, politically incorrect, and a little bit crazy.
It is chaotic intimacy at it’s finest.
Without the drag shows, and the synchro routines and the inappropriate board games, Christmas just doesn’t feel like…Christmas.
Which brings me to my mother’s second Christmas rule: find the gift in everything.
Sometimes I’m not sure how I ended up in the family that I did.
See, when I’m home for Christmas, my mother’s easy-going nature drives me crazy. I want things to be structured and run smoothly. I want to know who’s gonna be at the table.
When I was back home a few weeks ago, on the afternoon before she was set to host a turkey dinner for twenty people, the drain in the kitchen sink broke. Where I would have called the whole thing off, my mom just laughed and put all the dirty dishes in the bathtub.
I’m not sure there’s anything that could go wrong that my mom couldn’t see some sort of blessing, lesson or beauty in.
So, while this year’s Christmas may be a more subdued affair, it presents an opportunity for me to truly recognize what a gift all those Christmases truly are.
For in all those years I gathered with the masses around my mother’s table, I learned so much about fun, about generousity and about love.
It’s strange how you can’t see the gift in things until so much later on.
I didn’t realize it until now, but all the people my mom invites to break bread each Christmas Day aren’t there out of the obligation of family or because they have to be. They are there because they are loved. And even if she has to find another chair, or go out and get another turkey, she takes them in. They come because whether they happened to be walking through the local grocer that morning or show up every year, they are welcome.
For there is always more room at the inn.
Tonight, miles away from home, I’m grateful for the gift that is my mother.
So very grateful that in each memory she created, she taught me about what Christmas really means.