Thank the lord, I say to myself, that Christmas comes only once a year. It's stressful. There's so much to do. And so much to get right.
Everywhere I look it tells me that Christmas is a kind of higher art form. How to cook the perfect turkey. How to make the perfect table decorations. How to perfectly gift wrap the perfect gift. How not to annoy your long lost relatives. And there are specialists, psychologists and chefs writing blogposts and newspaper columns to help me through this unbelievably tough once a year ordeal.
It's stressful to read all the articles, and even more stressful to follow all the instructions. And if I don't get it all done? If the sprouts are soggy and the potatoes are burnt? If people cry in horror as they unwrap their gifts? Well, the glaring spotlight of failure will be shining on me.
But if I stop for a minute, I remember that throughout the year I spontaneously cook big jolly meals for large groups of people (family included). And I'm definitely not alone.
I've been cooked traditional Sunday lunch with all the trimmings, an awesome Thanksgiving spread with requisite giant turkey and and in my Jewish family, there are regular Friday night meals of chicken soup. roast chicken and potatoes and sweet desserts. All these meals had a minimum of ten mouths to feed and no-one had a melt down.
Through my work for SharedCity touring London's communities, I see people regularly cooking for hundreds or thousands of people - without really making a fuss.
It slowly dawns on me that large gatherings of family and friends cooking and eating together is actually quite a normal thing for many people. And not the miraculous one-off event heralded by the media at Christmas-time.
And so, thinking about all this, I breathe again, and feel calm. And I throw this weeks Sunday supplements squarely into the recycling bin. I vow never to google an article on the perfect Christmas again.
Next time anyone mentions the painful stress of Christmas, I will share stories of my favourite SharedCity communal food gatherings from 2016.
If you need inspiration too, here they are:
1. A meal at Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha. No trip to Southall is complete without a visit to the largest Sikh temple in London. It is an obligation for Sikhs to feed visitors and here at the temple I was treated to a tour of the kitchen where volunteers where making a thousand chapatis to serve for free as part of langar, a vegetarian meal for all who pass through the doors. I sat to eat it on the carpet of the big hall with our group and our guide and learned how meals for many are prepared every single day of the year.
2. An Iftar meal. Despite not being Muslim and not fasting and observing Ramadan, I joined a meal at the Ramadan Tent project in central London where non-Muslims are invited to share Iftar with Muslims. Dates are passed around followed by biriyani rice and other snacks. The tent was packed with a few hundred people, many of them students, all eating simultaneously, full of joy as tummies were filled. For the forty days of Ramadan, the tent was full of people eating and sharing the moment.
3. Lunch at the Sri Lankan Temple. Compared to the large temple further along the road it would be easy to miss the Eelapatheeswarar Aalayam temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva. It's a tiny colourful temple inside but still manages to serve up large meals of rice and curry to hungry visitors at lunchtime. Our group was warmly ushered in to sit and eat with the community on the carpet with no questions about who we were. The ladies in the kitchen cook up vats of food twice a week for hundreds of people, no sweat.Suggest a correction