Getting Festive With Strangers

In the almost 10 years I’ve been meeting strangers for a meal to interview them, I’ve engaged with a huge range of people that I’d never otherwise have had the honor of chatting with and learning about. For the holidays, I reached out to a handful of the people who have featured on this site over the years to find out what their plans are for the festive season (click on their names to read my dinner interview with them).

#99 Santino & Jessica Fontana

Jessica: We’re going to Washington state where Santino’s family lives, that’s pretty much been our tradition. The nice thing about our interfaith marriage is there’s no fighting over who spends Christmas where. Our thing is Thanksgiving with my family in Philadelphia, and — when we can — we always go to Washington for Christmas. There’s no drama.

Santino: We basically become like 60-year-old people once we go to my parents’ place, we’re in our pajamas watching television and we fall asleep by 9 o’clock, we’re very exciting.

#37 Dr. Andrea Bonior
Clinical psychologist

The holidays with my brood (my husband and I have three children 12 and under) are about togetherness. We make a point to play a lot of board games while lounging by the fire, and we’re usually up to our ears in baking projects– the kitchen gets trashed, but it’s a lot of fun. Each year we have a bunch of friends over to toast, catch up, and laugh together.

My favorite tradition is that on the night we get a Christmas tree, we bundle up and stroll through Old Town Alexandria gawking at the decorations, and each of our three kids picks out a new Christmas ornament at The Christmas Attic, followed by a seafood dinner. When my husband and I were first dating, we spontaneously did this one night, and it’s stuck ever since! Although I am anything but a Pinterest-type of person, I keep a list of what the kids say about why they chose their ornament that year, and each year we look back and laugh at the quotes. Someday they’ll have quite a collection. We then go heavy on the egg nog and spend the rest of the night decorating our tree.

For me, this time of year is all about warmth, light and being grateful for the love that’s all around us even in the cold and dark of December.

#28 Zeb Soanes
BBC radio presenter

I’ll be spending the festive period at the BBC except Christmas Day when I will be on ‘stand-by’ in case any of my colleagues are ill, so I have told them all to start taking their vitamins! I can pour a glass of wine at 4pm when I know everyone who should be at work that day has arrived.

My festive break will be over New Year when I’m flying to the South of France to see the New Year in with friends there.

Andrew Edmunds, where I dined with Anthony remains, after all these years, my favorite restaurant in London. Memorably I dined there on the occasion of my 40th birthday after I had revealed the result of the Brexit referendum on that morning’s news. The atmosphere in the dining room, as across the country regardless of how people voted was one of shell-shock.

#2 Jim Piddock
Actor, writer and director

I shall be spending Christmas and New Year’s Eve in L.A., which I’ve done for the last several years. I actually love L.A. at Christmas. It’s surprisingly festive and has far more going on socially than at any other time. I believe we’ve been invited to about 10 parties over the holidays, which is almost as many as we’ve been to in the rest of the entire year. We’re also planning a quick trip to the Grand Canyon, which I’ve never been to before. I hear it’s very wide and quite deep, so it should be able to accomodate me after all my festive gorging.

#96 W. Ralph Eubanks
Writer, educator and scholar

Christmas for me means family, so I’m looking forward to spending time with my wife and three children, who will all be home for part of the holidays. As my oldest son inches toward thirty, I know the days of family gatherings for the holidays are waning and I just want to enjoy having everyone home while I can. A new tradition will begin soon and this Christmas is my recognition that fact.

It is our tradition to have dinner on Christmas eve right after mass, followed by a big breakfast. Presents are opened one at a time, just to stretch out the celebration a bit. The heart of my Christmas tradition is a lazy day at home, since the kitchen is officially closed after breakfast and meals for the rest of the day are “on your own.” Of course, books are big gifts in my family, so if we aren’t watching a movie on Christmas, we’re all sitting together reading. Those quiet moments when we are all reading are a reminder that I am lucky to have a family of readers. What more could a writer ask for?

#47 Lorraine Bowen
British Mistress of Melody

I’m afraid I’m not a fan of ‘Christmas’ so have got a one way ticket to Spain!

It seems that whereas all the trains stop here in the UK for days, in Spain they still run and things carry on regardless – BLINKIN’ BRILLIANT!

But I do love the English choral tradition and any excuse to go to candlelit carol concerts and sing the descant/harmony part super loudly is bliss!

#76 Fred Melamed & Leslee Spieler Melamed
Actor and his wife

Well, because we have twin boys, we enjoy the gift giving stuff a great deal. We do both Hanukkah and Christmas, so it is a costly, though extremely pleasing proposition. It also probably goes without saying that I enjoy the potato pancakes, delicious hams and so forth that maddeningly turn up at this time of year.

I was asked by my kids to explain the spiritual difference between Hanukkah and Christmas. Here is what I told them: Christmas is really about every one of us being redeemed. It is about the belief that sin, failings and error do not make us worthless; on the contrary, they are the essence of our humanity, and are always surmountable. Hanukkah is about staying true to who we are and what we believe. It celebrates the resistance of the Jew people to Hellenism, and really to the pressures to assimilate to any culture in which they find themselves.

My own conclusion is in agreement with Charles Dickens. The holidays are really best celebrated through Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men.

#35 Jason Ryan

I’ll be spending Christmas with family, splitting time around various parts of South Carolina. I’m hoping it will be reasonably chilly, and that I might even catch a glimpse of snow (something my youngest daughter has not yet even seen), but chances are it could be unseasonably warm. Even though I’ve lived in the South for 20 years, it’s still strange to celebrate the holidays if it’s not cold enough to warrant wearing a jacket. But who cares about the weather – family and food are certainly primed to be my holiday highlights.

For the new year, I like to begin with a walk on the beach. The waves help me feel especially alive and excited about what might be in store. Often I’ll pick a spot on the horizon and try to imagine what country lies directly across the water. I’ll also scour the beach for shells and sea life. Usually it’s just crabs and sand dollars that I find, but sometimes animals more exotic. A few weeks ago I encountered a dead dolphin on the beach. It was taller (longer?) than me! And months earlier I came across a baby shark washed up in the surf. He was alive, and fortunately small enough for me to pick him up and hurl him back in the water. You never lose at the beach.

#85 Michael Wood
Town crier

Come the festive season I am not interested in any of the boozy soirees that abound throughout the month of December. Besides, I am too busy performing and one thing you do not want as a town crier is to be shouting out loud whilst nursing a thumping hangover.

In the six decades I have bestrode this earth, I have not actually spent that many Christmases at home. This is due to a lengthy army career serving abroad, as well being on the road in later life while working in the entertainment business.

I finally settled down five years ago on getting married. My wife and I love nothing better than to enjoy Christmas day at our own pace at home, eating and drinking what we want, when we want. We do not feel compelled to visit anyone else or have anyone visit us (our kids have their own lives with their own children). This doesn’t mean to say we are “bah humbug”. We simply enjoy a simple Christmas Day together at home.

On second thoughts, if I won the lottery it doesn’t mean to say I wouldn’t book a room in a swanky, five-star London hotel and enjoy lording it up. Until that happens, between Christmas and the New Year, the one treat we always enjoy is a slap-up afternoon tea, followed by a visit to a local theatre for that most quintessential of British Christmas shows – a pantomime. And this is when I sit back to watch others doing their own town crying impressions as they not only shout but ear-piercingly scream at the performers on stage, which is part of the pantomime experience. OYEZ IT IS!

#18 Mary Ann Sorrentino
Abortion rights advocate and former radio show host

2017 is Christmas at the beach! Last summer Norwegian Air came to Rhode Island and initiated quite an aggressive advertising campaign. Among other things they were offering wonderful fares to interesting destinations with direct flights from the Providence Airport here.

As a result I decided that it might be fun to take our daughter and son-in-law and our two teen grandchildren to a Christmas at the beach in Martinique! My husband agreed that it would be fun and so here we are just weeks away from flying to Martinique for 6 days including Christmas Day.

Our hotel offers a Christmas banquet including fascinating local fish dishes, so from a culinary perspective this Christmas will also be interesting. We shall be decking the halls with tropical flowers and enjoying local holiday dishes as different from our usuall traditional Christmas meals as we can imagine.

Our “Christmas at the Beach Adventure” insures that this Christmas in Martinique will be one we shall be talking about for years to come.

JOYEUX NOEL, as they say in the French Caribbean and BONNE ANNEE to all of you.

#90 Cheryl Kagan
Maryland state senator

Over the holidays, I will be finalizing my legislative agenda before the State Senate reconvenes in January; soliciting support for my “Senator Kagan Milkshake” campaign fundraiser; working to produce the second, much-needed “UnNaugural Concert” to raise funds for progressive causes; and competing in a national Scrabble tournament!

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