By Eva Perroni

Christmas lunch has always been a big event in my Italian-Australian family. Countless days of preparation baking biscuits, marinating seafood, preparing antipasti plates and stacking layer upon layer of lasagne. Sometimes my mum tries to add a bit of Australian flare, with the help of the latest Women’s Weekly Christmas edition. One year she tried potato salad with macadamias. This year, she’s back to the lasagne.

It was never explicitly designed, but over the years we’ve fallen into a routine come Christmas day. The morning is spent giving and receiving gifts, followed by a breakfast of panettone, a light, airy sweet bread that lends itself to a thick spread of butter. Nowadays, you can purchase panettones in an array of flavours, from chocolate to cappucino to tutti frutti, but the plain or traditional fruit varieties are by far the best. We know that breakfast is not the time to fill up, especially as there is likely to be a reserve of panettone to last us for days.

My parents stay at home while us siblings, our partners, and my nieces walk down to the beach for a quick swim. A salt-water cleanse to prepare us for the decadence ahead. We alternate each year between my father or mother’s side for Christmas lunch, or we go to one side for lunch and another for dinner. Or, both sides come to our holiday home, generally for lunch and dinner. This equates to close to 50 (mainly adult) family members. It’s no small feat.

But nothing compares to the family coming together over a shared meal. A meal that has been discussed and designed with care and intent, prepared by many hands, and shared by all. A meal that has brought family together from across the country, or the world. A time that we have carved out of our otherwise busy lives to sit, eat and be merry. To reconnect with each other and disconnect from our troubles. To satiate our longing for the true gifts we get to share – happiness, laughter, togetherness. Suddenly, the days of preparation, the stress of last minute shopping, the fatigue of hours or days of travel, is subsumed by the lavishness and commensality of the Christmas day feast.

In our family, Christmas lunch unfolds over hours. A slow unwinding of copious courses, starting with seafood, progressing through roast meats and salads and ending in fresh fruit, biscotti and espresso. The lasagne sometimes doesn’t even make it to the oven, and is instead reserved for the next day and for those that have spent the night. The adults often seek out a quiet corner or comfy couch to sleep off the excessiveness, while the younger ones sneak back for a second serving of sweets, knowing that on Christmas there are no rules and they can eat to their heart’s content (or their stomachs ache).

To me, Christmas lunch is a reminder of how profound, yet simple, the act of sharing a meal can be. In general, people are spending less and less time preparing their own meals and eating them together. Whilst it may be natural to dismiss the family meal as a nostalgic remnant of times gone by, the simple act of gathering around the communal table has been shown to increase social connectedness, happiness and better health. At this time of year, we have the opportunity to leave behind our individual pursuits, rules and regulations and grant ourselves the permission to indulge and relax.

Coming together over the Christmas meal serves as a celebration and an opportunity to acknowledge and honour the goodness of others and the gifts of family and friendship. That is a tradition worth upholding.

Eva Perroni is an activist-researcher and writer focused on creating a more just and sustainable food system.

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