Eat, Give, Love

By Pamela Toman

“How would you feel if your family decided to order pizza this holiday season and leave the house just as it is, in favour of a simpler, fuss-free holiday?” Dr. Mounir Samy asks me, during an impromptu meeting we have scheduled to discuss the holidays and their familial importance.
I almost start to salivate as I think of my grandmother’s freshly fried Polish perogies stuffed with kielbasa and cheese gently laid out on a crisp red runner on her long dining room table. “I would surely be upset!” I announce, surprised by the emotion in my voice. If I think about it a little longer and imagine a Domino’s pizza box on the coffee table of her living room, my eyes nearly well up with tears.
Why am I so troubled by his suggestion – one that I had even considered at one time to make holiday family time simpler? “Food,” begins Dr. Samy, psychiatrist at the Montreal Children’s Hospital of the McGill University Health Centre, “is highly symbolic of love – when we cook for our family and eat together we are really celebrating how happy we are and taking each other in”.
There’s something exquisite about a home that’s been carefully prepared for the holidays that warms the heart and quiets the noise of the fast-paced world around us. The ruby-red napkins, the white-stemmed candles and the aroma of home-cooked food are not the features of a regular Thursday night meal – they are the product of careful consideration and planning.
Yes, the preparations can sometimes be stressful, or even daunting. But as Dr. Samy explains, they need not feel like a job.
“The holidays are about family coming together to celebrate their love for one another by putting great care in the details,” he says. “The special effort and love that goes into decorating the house and preparing a delicious meal are all different ways of telling your family ‘I am privileged to cook and spend time and money on you’”.
Fussing over table cloths and specific ingredients is perfectly warranted says Dr. Samy, because the holidays are some of the few dedicated moments we have to affectionately express our love for our family through food, gifts and the meticulous preparation for the evening.
“This is a time to forget about the issues and problems that you were focusing on last week,” Dr. Samy insists, “and to celebrate your children, or your siblings and your parents – it’s okay to be silly and joyfully laugh together”. In doing this, he assures, lasting and authentic memories will be created.
The holiday season is marked by a sense of collective awareness, and creates a sense of belonging that children of all ages feel and experience. Instead of trying to be the perfect parents, Dr. Samy maintains that authenticity is key. “Children, most of all need the experience of happy parents – happiness is the fuel to attachment in kids.”
This holiday season, I will probably still fret about the line-ups at the department store and buying the perfect gift – in the end, I am human. But I will turn off that worry switch the moment I am surrounded by the ones I love, and let myself be open to feeling touched and surprised at how thoughtful my parents and sisters are and how delicious my grandmother’s food is. After all, Domino’s is open all year round.