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…Eleven pipers piping, ten lords a leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight maids a milking, seven swans a swimming, six geese a laying…five golden rings…four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.

I’ve spent every Christmas with family except one. Distance and work schedules prevented my sister and I from joining our parents one year. Holiday orphans, we were invited by my best friend’s mother to join them for Christmas dinner.

My friend’s mother was a sparkling conversationalist, well-traveled and witty with perfect manners. A diminutive figure that favored Chanel suits, Gucci bags and Ferragamos on her size four-and-a-half feet.

But she couldn’t cook. She readily admitted it.

Instead of a roast turkey worthy of a Norman Rockwell Christmas painting, we had smoked, sliced turkey breast from the deli.

Instead of fluffy mashed potatoes and a savory stuffing, she served a pasta salad. I like pasta salad. Usually. But her pasta salad consisted of boiled spaghetti noodles mixed in a creamy salad dressing with chopped tomatoes and sweet pickle relish.

Dessert. Festive Cool Whip pie, the kind made with cherry and lime jello. Despite her best attempts, the pie looked like islands of whipped non-dairy substitute floating on a slushy sea of red and green in an unbaked, frozen pie shell. 

We filled up on rolls and butter.

Afterward, back at my tiny apartment, my sister and I satisfied our hunger with a loaf of French bread and lots of salami.

But we were cheered by the embrace of good company, great conversation and the graciousness of our hosts.

And that in essence, is the true spirit of Christmas.

Tell me about your most memorable holiday meal.