Holidays make more work

20 December 2012
Author   J.W. ASHEEKE

WHEN holidays are here, women work harder than when it is the regular time of the year. My husband and kids look forward to holidays, but, at times, I don’t. From this point of view, holidays mean more cooking and cleaning up, more arrangements to be made, more plans to be sorted, more guests to be served, more drunk relatives to steer away from the bar, more laundry to be done, more noise and confusion around the house and more things that have to be taken out and then, put away.


All of these things usually end up on my ‘to do list’ for the holiday season while everyone else gets to sit, laugh, eat, enjoy, have friends over, play games, go to movies and have fun!

For many women, holidays make more work.

Ok… think about this as you munch on a turkey leg, eat ondjushwa with ondjengo (marula oil), enjoy some ehanda, drink a Tafel Lager, omarovu (traditional beer) or sip on some champagne at New Year’s. Who bought that food you are eating? Who stood in the long lines at Checkers or Spar? Who stamped the mahangu, picked the spinach, caught and killed the local chicken, did okutendaeengongo, diced, sliced and prepared that food? Who cooked it to taste so good that you are drooling with joy at every bite you take? Who is going to clean up that plate you are eating from? Who puts it away? Is that person enjoying the food alongside of you? Probably not; they are in the kitchen fixing more food or busy cleaning up something.

I remember past holidays in Washington, DC with my Grandma Cookie (my mother’s mother). She was the leader of the entire family; just writing about her makes me miss her so very much; she taught me the meaning of life. First for Thanksgiving in November and then for Christmas Day and again for New Year’s Day and Easter Sunday, the family holiday meals were prepared by my grandma and enjoyed at her house. We all had duties of course to help out. But, my grandma was a women’s liberation thinker and that was odd for her generation. She insisted that the men in the house take on some of the holiday preparation duties. She also bought a huge dishwasher to make the clean-up go faster too! My grandma was ever a great planner!

My brother and male cousins had to help set the tables. I was responsible to help lay the silver, crystal and china, making sure that the right settings were there for the right course. My grandma worked hard as a teacher and then a principal and then a government education administrator and saved enough money to buy her silver, china and crystal starting back in 1949 and not finalizing her collection until the late 1970’s.

It was iconic in our family to have a formal, fully-dressed, four-course festive table, with beautiful and large floral holiday-appropriate center pieces just like you would find in the finest “five-star whites-only hotel” (that is what my grandma used to say.) She had starched white cotton damask table cloths from Italy and matching napkins. My grandmomma would slap your face to even think of putting paper napkins on her formal table! Her personal revenge against Segregationwas making sure that her children knew what ‘fine’ things were, and that they were not for whites only, but for anyone who worked hard.

But, Jackie Marie (that was me) and my cousin Rose-Kathryn were in charge of setting the table and at 12 years old, we were experts. The boys, though they were older, had to take orders from us to get that table set on time! We were well-trained by my Grandma Cookie. Because our family and close friends were so many at festive times, we had to set two tables and sometimes did shifts of eating, re-setting the table for those arriving later! Full service was always available and the food was plenty. Grandma cooked all night and all morning to make sure.

I remember some Christmas holidays when we had venison along with the regular turkey with oyster dressing, giblet gravy, baked ham with pineapples, cranberry sauce, mac and cheese, collard greens with pig feet, buttered mashed potatoes, cauliflower and broccoli with herbs, sweet potato, mince, pumpkin and apple pies, and the greatest hot rolls straight from the oven! When we had venison, my Uncle Warren would have hunted a deer (with the proper license, of course) and with a few male cousins and nephews, prepared it properly so that my grandma could cook an entire leg! Wow! That was some kinda good eatin’.

Then came the clean-up time: My grandma, being liberated from the ethos that women had to do all the cooking-related work, made the young men help load the dishwasher, scrape the leavings into the garbage and take the bags out, mop and sweep any messes or things that spilled, and help put the pots and pans away when dinner was all done. She put a television in the kitchen so that we could watch the football game while we were all working! Of course, Grandma Cookie definitely supervised the cleaning of her crystal and china! (No crystal in the dishwasher!)We made jokes and shared fun stories while we all worked together! Sometimes we sang Christmas songs; “…Chestnuts roasting on the open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose, yuletide carols being sung by a choir and folks dressed up like eskimos…”

My grandma worked hard to make the holiday festivities a success! Women bear the labour burden of making a festive season work for everyone else.

But this ‘women’s work load’ doesn’t stop at holiday meals. It goes on at any family event. If I didn’t work in tourism already, I think that when I go on holidays with my family, after we come back home, I would then go off on a real holiday ALONE or with my best home girl. Only then, would I really rest. Going on a camping or road trip or any holiday with the kids and husband is serious WORK. All the packing, planning, watching the kids, arrangements, problem solving, andfun activities, end up in the woman’s lap.Ladies, we all should plan two holidays… one with the family so THEY can relax and the other without them so WE can relax!

“Many hands make light work”- That is an old saying. But somehow that goes by the wayside in the holiday preparations of meals. I noticed that here in Namibia, it is the young women who become virtual pack horses doing the grunt work involved in preparation of meals. They have to serve, clean up and do massive preparations (collect fire wood, water, etc…) and make sure the younger kids are cleaned-up and all have something to eat. When in the North on holiday, I see my husband’s nieces and sisters-in-law really sweating and straining to get food cooked and served; and they do an excellent job! The food is GREAT. But, when do they get to celebrate?To them, is Christmas more work or a holiday?

Readers - Just before you chow down this holiday, say a prayer over your food; maybe like this: “Bless us Lord and these, Thy gifts which we are about to receive, from Thy bounty through Christ the Lord. Bless those who are sad on this Christmas Day. Let us appreciate what we have and love one another better. And God, please especially bless the hands that prepared this meal. Amen.”

Happy Holidays to All!
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