89. A Progressively Good Time

89. A Progressively Good Time

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas!

A Progressively Good Time

If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart.

~Cesar Chavez

Christmas is my absolute favorite time of the year. But when I add decorating, baking, addressing cards, shopping, wrapping, and entertaining to my usual routine, even I can turn into the Grinch. “To Do” lists take over my life from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. It’s easy for me to forget to enjoy the holiday season with the precious friends in my life.

Two childhood friends, Janet and Mary, were especially dear to me. We attended junior high school together and remained close as adults. From January through November, we enjoyed Girls’ Nights Out and family barbeques, and we celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, births, and graduations.

When December rolled around, we all wanted to open our homes to entertain the others. However, doing so would have meant setting aside three separate evenings in a month already bursting with commitments. We also did not want to add to the seasonal pressure by asking one person to host a complete sit-down dinner for all three couples.

I don’t remember who first came up with the idea, but one year, someone suggested we try something different. I’ve heard it referred to in a variety of ways, including a round robin or progressive dinner. Whatever you call it, for us it meant one night, three homes, and three courses: appetizer, entrée, and dessert. We decided to give it a try, although our husbands were not nearly as enthusiastic. They could not understand why we did not simply pick one home for the evening.

But we knew what we wanted. We wanted to enjoy the pleasure of each other’s company. We wanted to immerse ourselves in the spirit of the season. We wanted to delight in each other’s beautifully decorated homes. We wanted to use the good china and treat ourselves as special guests. We wanted to relish each other’s home cooking without having one person burdened with the responsibility of serving the entire meal. And we wanted to do it all in one night!

For appetizers in the first home, the men congregated in front of the TV watching sports bloopers. The women sat in the kitchen getting caught up on what was happening in our lives and in our families. At the next home, the six of us discussed everything from politics to religion over a formal dinner. Finally, at the third home, we ignored our tightening waistbands as we gave in to the temptation of a table full of decadent desserts. Our husbands reluctantly admitted that this wasn’t such a crazy idea after all. The evening was pronounced a success and a new tradition was born.

We held our first progressive dinner during the Christmas season of 1987. We planned our final progressive meal more than ten years later, the Christmas before I moved from New York to Florida. We rotated assignments each year, so that over a three-year period each hostess would have served all three courses of the meal.

No matter whose home we were at, when it was time to move on for the next course, one couple would surreptitiously glance at their watches, then grab their coats and slip out the door to prepare for the next round. The other two couples would give them a ten-minute head start and then follow in their own cars.

We would pull up to each house and take a moment to admire the brightly lit outdoor Christmas decorations. The warm lights of a Christmas tree usually glowed through the window. The front door was always unlocked, and as we entered, the sights and smells of the season beckoned us in. Christmas carols would be playing softly in the background. We’d admire the new and old decorations, and examine the Christmas tree to identify recently added ornaments.

The progressive nature of our evenings did not end with the meal. Even our gift exchanges were progressive. Instead of opening our gifts all at once, the hostess at each home would pull the packages from beneath the tree and present us with our gifts. We adults were as excited as children when we opened presents while sitting in the soft light of each home’s Christmas tree.

Recollections from these evenings range from frightening to humorous. One year an ice storm caused us to move all three courses to one house rather than give up our celebration. We selected the home where the entrée was prepared, since that course would be the most difficult to move. Unfortunately, though, that house was located at the top of a steep hill. Trying to drive up the hill was bad enough. Skidding down was terrifying.

Another time it was my turn to make dessert. I tried a new recipe, but we all declared it an unmitigated disaster. A word of advice: Grasshopper Bars taste as bad as they sound!

Yet another year, Janet wrapped all her packages in plain brown craft paper, and then used her artistic talent to decorate each package. The wrapping was beautiful and unique, and so special that we were reluctant to tear the paper to get to the gifts!

Some years our schedules were so busy that one of us would cheat, serving a store-bought appetizer, entree, or dessert. Even so, the most important thing was that we refused to give up our evening together.

It didn’t matter what we talked about or what we ate. It didn’t matter whether we were in a three-room apartment or a four-bedroom house. What mattered was that we enjoyed the holiday season together, and our friendship continued to grow… progressively.

~Ava Pennington

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