For the last few years my mother, God love her, (and saint that she is- if God loves anyone, it's her) has taken in a stray folk or two for Christmas dinner, as no one should have to spend Christmas alone. By times I've begged to differ, but alas there's never a dull moment in the Demmons household!
There was the year when Mom invited a man who had attended her church a few times who recently moved to Canada from the Middle East. Ten minutes before the man was set to arrive Mom decided that we shouldn’t have wine with dinner in case the man might be offended or in case he were a former alcoholic (even though she hadn’t the slightest bit evidence to suggest this). My sister and I promptly started downing glasses of wine before his arrival and eventually convinced Mom that the man probably wasn’t a former alcoholic, or at least that we were willing to take that risk. Luckily the man took a glass of wine without any issue or offense. I’m surprised he wasn’t offended though, as he was offended about many other things in the world. Before he finished his first glass of wine he told us that we shouldn’t allow Muslims to immigrate to Canada from the Middle East, and that we Canadians were naïve to allow Middle Eastern people to take advantage of our Canadian hospitality. He then proceeded to size up the academic credentials of everyone on the room (many of whose credentials were many). Over dinner he picked fights about politics and religion with my less than dispassionate brother-in-law (who did his PhD thesis on military history), my sister (who did a PhD in theology), and myself (who has a Master’s in Philosophy of Religion). Of the taboo dinner table topics Emily Post would disapprove of, money was the only one the man didn’t raise, while all the while my mother, who was back and forth to the kitchen serving the food, was oblivious to it all. Let’s just say that I was very grateful for the wine!
The year prior Mom invited a lady from her church who was well known to us for seeking out the charity of others. Dad was not in favor of the idea, and even Mom was on the fence about inviting her, but the lady, who was always good for a laugh, was an old favorite of mine from childhood, and my brother was away that year, so we figured why not make it interesting? When we used to pick the lady up for church (as she’d often call Mom for a ride) she’d always make sure she got the front seat by saying “Jillian, if you don’t give me the front I’ll smoosh you flat like a pancake!” At Christmas dinner our lady was very concerned that there wasn’t any Coca Cola to be seen. Mom dug around and found a 2L of no-name gingerale in the basement, and the lady plopped it down on the table and promptly proceeded to drink the whole thing while telling me that she drinks four 2Ls of Coke a day. I’m not sure how that is possible, but it is impressive. Our lady isn’t one for small talk, but she is one for food. She used to take a handful of little bread squares from the communion plate, instead of one piece. At Christmas dinner she scarfed down two huge plates of turkey and potatoes drenched in gravy, and looked with disgust at the other vegetables. After several helpings of pie she said “Susan, take me home!” and off she went— short and sweet and we live to tell the story.
Last year my sister invited two friends of hers, a couple who had recently immigrated to Canada from the Middle East. Contrary to the opinion of the unpleasant political fellow who had attended Christmas prior— this couple is absolutely lovely, and a joyous addition to Canada. They brought delicious lentil kibbis, thoughtful hand-made presents, interesting stories, and warm hearts. They shared with us a love for Canada and the maritimes, and much laughter. In hearing about their immigration experience I re-experienced the beauty and joy of living in Nova Scotia again through new eyes. The night ended with singing Christmas songs and maritime songs with accompaniment from my uncle’s accordion, which is one of my favorite Demmons family Christmas traditions. Sharing “Farewell to Nova Scotia” with new Nova Scotians was a truly heartwarming experience.
Being hospitable is not always easy. Sometimes you invite a guest to your dinner party and they eat all of your little cheese puff hors d’oeuvres before the majority of the guests arrive, or they show up two hours late for dinner. Sometimes you invite a guest to your wedding and they forget to RSVP and then show up with a date, or get into the wine before the ceremony.
Despite the rogue misbehaver, the joy of sharing the family table with friends, family, and strangers can be a truly rewarding experience. Being married to a man who has flocks of friends and who frequently gives away our things (last week he literally gave a friend the shirt off of his back), I can attest to the fact that hospitality is a beautiful quality to have. I am thankful that I work in the hospitality industry, as it is an extremely rewarding field to work in. With a mother like mine, it’s fair to say that hospitality is a something that I come by honestly!