Now that Chanukah is in full swing, I’ve been enjoying the holiday with family and friends. And what is a celebration without the traditional foods – potato pancakes (latkes), donuts (sofganiot) and chocolate coins (gelt).
Food has always been an important part of family rituals – sometimes the scents alone can bring back vivid memories of shared holidays. And it can transcend generations: frying latkes reminds me of watching my mother make them for us as kids, making dozens for my own children, and now preparing them to take to my grandchildren.
But do you have relatives with a history of pushing the buttons at family gatherings that put dysfunctional dynamics into play? Family relationships, even more central at holiday time, can be challenging so you may be looking for ways to relieve some of the tension and stress. If you don’t want your holiday table to dissolve into a scene you’ll all regret later, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Keep your expectations grounded in reality. It may be tempting to idealize your family connections but remember some of the issues that surfaced in the past. Take those into account when you make your plans for this year’s celebration.
Identify potential triggers in advance and do what you can to prevent or deal with them. It may mean limiting your guest list, changing your seating plan or banning certain topics from the discussion.
Know your limits and stay within them. You may plan a few small gatherings over time rather than one large one. Or let everyone participate in their own way instead of doing it all yourself.
When you prepare for potential glitches in your family gathering, breaking bread together can be healing, reinforcing your ties as you linger over the meal, relaxing and sharing stories and memories. Food is more than just sustenance – it sends a powerful message of love, nurturing and caring. So enjoy your traditional foods – be they latkes, gingerbread, eggnog, tamales, or that infamous fruitcake – and happy holidays.
For those of you who will be celebrating Christmas, I hope you enjoy the warmth of the kitchen later this month as you bake cookies or pop corn to trim the tree. And remember to take good care of yourself as you enjoy the holiday season with family and friends.