Grief: It's the holidays -- who's cooking?

  • This Father Christmas ceramic centerpiece -- a find from vintage store Half Full Nest in West Dundee -- will grace the table at Christmas for the author.

    This Father Christmas ceramic centerpiece -- a find from vintage store Half Full Nest in West Dundee -- will grace the table at Christmas for the author. Courtesy of By Susan Anderson-Khleif

Updated 12/7/2019 8:01 AM

Here we are in the midst of holiday season, the period between Thanksgiving and New Year is certainly the intensive "party, cooking and eating" time of the year. By the end of the week, I will have already attended two big Christmas parties. Oh my ... lots of temptations.

When I was growing up, all family holiday meals were cooked and eaten at home. Absolutely everything and every occasion except Mother's Day and Mother's birthday, were home-cooked celebrations.


But this is not always the case for families anymore. Two or three years ago, my friend, Diane, and I went out for Thanksgiving dinner, just the two of us, to a large nearby restaurant and were astounded to see how many multigenerational families were there on Thanksgiving instead of cooking at home. Fun to see all those happy families celebrating. (Some more lively and joyful than others).

Anyway, many people just don't cook much anymore. Or after years of cooking and hosting big holiday meals, they just want a break. Many young couples are two-job families with little time to shop, prepare, bake, cook.

My dear husband, Baheej, loved Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving dinner was cooked here at home, Nazareth style.

This means, among other variations, that the turkey is stuffed with ground lamb, rice, pine nuts, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice instead of sage bread stuffing. And we had a roast leg of lamb. The side dishes are grape leaves, okra, eggplant or other Mediterranean type dishes rather than green bean casserole, carrots, peas, mashed potatoes and gravy and candied yams. But we usually did have pecan pie for dessert, and pumpkin pie, of course. It was our version of a traditional meal. And always cooked at home so all could be prepared according to the old recipes.

As we know, for the bereaved, holidays are likely to revive both happy and sad memories. Sometimes a little variation in habits and traditions helps cope with grief, especially long-term grief.

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Well, for this recent Thanksgiving, Diane and I had decided neither one of us would cook, and we would go out to that same restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner, not even sure we'd eat turkey. Another reminder of life's changes we all must manage.

But then -- voila! -- my dear friend Diane's daughter, Jolie, and son-in-law, Karl, took over, and they cooked and hosted Thanksgiving at their house. I brought the pies for dessert. This transition -- where the next generation takes over the traditional holiday hosting -- is a rite of passage for all. And a lovely experience. I remember the first time this happened to Baheej and myself -- when the children started doing Thanksgiving and Easter. So enjoyable to see what elegant and great hosts they have all become.

But when it comes to Christmas, fast approaching, I will definitely cook and host Christmas dinner.

I even have a new Father Christmas ceramic centerpiece from a great new local vintage store called Half Full Nest in downtown West Dundee.

No restaurant meals that day. We'll have leg of lamb and a standing prime rib beef roast -- a specialty my mother did on holidays -- several vegetable dishes and big salad, of course.


I love to cook, a hobby of mine. I'll make pecan pie and serve Nazareth-style pastries -- ladyfingers, bird's nests, baklava, many others. And I will think of my dear Baheej and hope he is with us.

So the point is: Try to let the holidays be as positive and genuinely cheerful as possible, however you celebrate. This takes some determination and care to navigate around all the many emotions that rise to the surface if bereaved but it can be done and will be comforting. So cook, enjoy, go out, and be with those you love.

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a Ph.D. in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College, and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at or see her blog See previous columns at

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