How do I even begin to tell you about Christmas? I think the easiest way is by captioning the photos below, which I’ve done (click on the photos for a larger, slide show view). You’ll also need some background, so here goes.

We’ve celebrated every year, for 30 or so years, at my parent’s house. There are usually between 26 and 30 guests for a sit-down dinner. It’s a production that takes many willing participants, and days to pull off. And it is all orchestrated by my mom, who I think is amazing (and a little bit crazy). I could never do what she does.

My mom keeps books in which she records every holiday meal she hosts, and other special events. The books go back more than a decade, probably two. In each, she notes the guest list, and (often inaccurate) count. She draws out the seating chart, how the tables were arranged and in which room. She records the menu, with illustrations. And finally she makes notes about how Christmas went that year.

The notes are extensive, she talks about the menu, serving and seating, what worked and what didn’t. But she also notes the emotional tone of the holiday, why we all felt good or didn’t. Who we missed, or who was at Christmas for the first time.

In 2000, I brought Shane to Christmas for the first time and we started the tradition of Christmas Lottery. It is not a yankee swap. Shane and I buy one very big gift (such as an entire prosciutto) and a smaller gift that hints at what the big gift will be. At dinner, between courses, we hold a lottery drawing, to see who will win the gifts. Most years, the lottery numbers are somehow worked into the table setting.

The lottery has become a much anticipated source of entertainment at dinner over the past decade plus. We make kind of a hammy production of it. Since she was two months old, we’ve been incorporating our daughter, Rose, into the performance. The Lottery provides a welcome break between courses, and helps to pace the meal.

With that I leave you with the captioned photos below (click on the photos for a larger, slide show view). Merry Christmas!