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I need a bigger table

"Christmas is coming the geese are getting fat." nursery rhyme

This is a roast goose. It used to be what we ate at Christmas, but I think you would be hard pressed to find one these days. Which, in a way is a bit odd. The French still keep geese - mostly for the foie gras though. I'm not sure that they eat the whole bird. Suffice to say that it was the Victorians who turned us to turkey and that is what I shall be providing for our traditional Christmas dinner - on Christmas Eve.

And ham, plus all the bits and pieces. Which is why I am having an early panic. Although my current panic is not the food it's the table. You see in spite of one half of our immediate family being in Japan for Christmas, my own family is taking up the slack in a big way. My niece, husband and child are always part of the gathering of course, so this year I thought I would invite Jimmy's mum, who is alone, as well. But then my own sister and husband will be here for a long holiday, and Jimmy's sister, husband and son will be here for a shorter one. If everyone comes - including in-laws on our side of the family then I am almost at twenty people and I don't have a big enough table. The table in the picture does have about twenty. This is what I'm looking at seating (and feeding - much easier). And I just don't have a table big enough.

What am I to do? Well in fact I could seat everyone, but it's very tricky. We are, of course, hoping it will be fine enough to sit outside, and our big outside table can fit 12 at a pinch if you have two at each end. Then there is another smaller outside table which will seat six, although of course if you put these two tables end to end, you eliminate two ends - three people, so still not enough. I think I'm still five or six people short. Of course I have an indoor table which will also seat 10 at a pinch, but it's very heavy, so not to be moved, and another couple of outdoor tables but they are round. One at each end? I won't go on, although I could, including my husband's disinclination to move things. And I'm sure it will be solved - with help from my son and grandsons I think. I have ideas that I'm not revealing here. Besides I'm still not sure how many people will be there. or what the weather will be like. It's a whole world of different problems if we have to be inside.

The point is, however, that this is just one of the many problems of Christmas. Why on earth do we do it?

My Christmas stress and the instigator of this post, began with something else which is not really a Christmas thing in the sense of the festival. It's the jam thing. As you probably know by now, every year I harvest the wild plums that grow on five trees around our property. Last year the crop was huge. This year the crop was not looking very large at all, and then I found that the birds were already beginning to take them all. So yesterday I picked everything I could see, ripe or not, from three of those trees. One of the others had already been stripped bare, and the other has very, very underripe plums. Really too small to even consider It was not a large haul. It did not even fill a colander. Probably about as many as in the above photograph, but not nearly as ripe or as large. So I made jam - yes you can make jam with fruit that is not ripe, and the taste was great. Only five and a half jars though, and only two of those were full-sized jam jars. Last year I had so many that I had to be creative in finding places to store them.

Which on the one hand is disappointing, but on the other is great, because I now don't have that last minute stress of making jam a day or so before Christmas on top of everything else. It might be supremely satisfying making jam but it's also time-consuming and time is a precious commodity if you're 'doing' Christmas.

Indeed why am I doing Christmas? We are not at all religious, and frankly Christmas is all wrong in the summer and there is indeed so much stress - what to buy for people as a suitable present; all the cooking involved - what to cook, will you find the right sized turkey, the timing of it all, will there be enough potatoes?; that table - big enough, do you decorate it?; indeed Christmas decorations; will somebody argue with somebody else; will I lose it? I fear I sometimes do.

Tradition is a strange thing is it not? I mean as a child it's obvious why I liked Christmas. There were presents and Father Christmas - even the poor make a big effort on presents for their children at Christmas time. It isn't as bad these days, as the grandchildren are older now, and I think the adults are relaxing into not giving as much, or at least as many. Children like the opening more than the presents I think.

The thought of ignoring Christmas completely however is sort of unthinkable. Even when half of your family are not here. In fact I remember one Christmas in Australia when our sons were young men and doing the Australian thing by spending years in Europe, that it was just David and I. And yet we cooked a turkey and ate it outside in the garden. And the tradition has continued from there.

Initially in Australia, before children, we would begin with a breakfast in the house of one of our expat group of friends, move on to lunch at another and then finish at home with snacks. Our parents visted a few times at Christmas and that made it a little bit special, but the tradition of touring to the friends continued for a few years even with toddlers and very young children. Then it became too much and morphed into just the nuclear family, Presents and Christmas trees, plus the turkey were the real thing.

Then our sons grew and had children of their own and from there Christmas has expanded to included all of us and the extended family too. And so we arrive at this year's challenges.

Is it an equal challenge for David and I or is it, as many say: "Father Christmas, more like Mother Christmas"? And is it a time of good cheer or disaster? A bit of all of that I would say. David does indeed play a big part, by polishing the ceiling and all that. The house and garden are always pretty immaculate thanks to him. He also does the lights - such as they are. I think this year, I might suggest stringing some of those yards of lights through bushes outside. The Christmas tree - such as it is is mine. I say such as it is because, it is, of course, never a real tree these days - too expensiv and moreover environmentally insensitive perhaps. However, our tree is not even a flashy artificial one. It's minimalist made by David - a triangular pyramid of three silver dowels. And it's I who decorate it. I am tempted to ignore it this year, although I have threatened this for a few years now and always succumbed. Christmas dinner and everything to do with it really is mine. Well until it's finished when David steps in and does the washing up. Oh and he does help with any carrying of tables, and plates, and so on. And the drinks.

In spite of the all the hassle and the stress, tradition, however, will persist - to the point that the son who won't be here at actual Christmas is hosting a pre-Christmas Christmas dinner for the immediate family. So now we have two Christmases, and I suppose I could ask why I bother with our Christmas Eve dinner. After all we shall have already had a wonderful family Christmas. I shall ignore the fact that this year my sister is visiting from England, which is certainly one reason why we shall be 'doing' Christmas, but I think we would anyway because - well it's Christmas - and it's just all wrong to let it pass by.

It's November but suddenly it will be Christmas I know. So I'm going to start looking for a turkey of the appropriate size - huge one like this - or would I be better off with two smaller ones, even if that does lead to oven problems? I'm also pondering on whether to do crackers or not. They look nice, but they are stupid, although when I look at past Christmas photos with all of us in silly hats I must admit I smile. Would it be better to just substitute some fancy chocolates or something? I will think on that.

Or maybe it would be better to just have a party with family and friends on Boxing Day and eat up the leftovers. Maybe start a different tradition. It's never too late for that.

And I've just noticed that I would never consider serving anything else than turkey with Jane Grigson's stuffing. I simply wouldn't. Dessert here in Australia is the only option for innovation in the menu. Christmas pudding is just not right in the heat.


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