February 21, 2024 | Rome, Italy


By |2018-03-21T18:34:51+01:00December 5th, 2008|"Suzanne's Taste"|
What if these weren't necessary.

et’s draw names. Just for once. Everyone buys one present for one other person and tells the rest that they are loved, cherished, etc. And that presents do not a friendship or a family make. Or do they?

I often ruminate about the necessity of holiday gifts. Is it just my southern background and a childhood full of visits to friends and family, always with something in hand? Or is it just accepted protocol that we must always bring something for the hostess, for the little ones; something to herald our participation in a celebratory event?

I find myself thinking that if we showed up with nothing in hand, just smiles all around and affectionate hugs, we might be considered eccentric, even ungrateful. The idea that we might one day just arrive empty-handed, enjoy what is being offered, and leave fulfilled, is hard-to-grasp concepts.

That doesn’t stop me from imagining it.

When invited for an aperitivo, is it really necessary to contribute to the host’s wine cellar? Or to bring a plate of something un-asked-for to another’s dinner party? Interesting questions, especially around holiday time.

What if, for example, you arrived at a party and said, “Happy holiday, I just gave five euro, in your name, to an elderly homeless woman I saw on your street instead of that little pack of cute paper guest towels I had planned to give you.”

Or what if you showed up with an envelope full of coupons you’d saved from shopping trips to the Sma, or with the homeless person in tow, saying: “Tell you what, next time it’s your turn to bring someone hungry to my dinner party.”

One year on my birthday, my best friend came sailing into my small party with a hitchhiker, a marvelous young artist who recited his works (and sang) all night long. What a gift! After dinner, we wrapped him back up and took him to the highway: he had had a lively evening and left all of us happier for it.

This sort of idea may be only a maudlin metaphor, but I do find myself wondering often if we all might not be a little too obsessed about taking things to people’s houses that they may not really want — wine that doesn’t suit the nights’ menu, for example, or a chatchka that goes straight into the unwanted present drawer.

What if we brought our favorite poem to read along with dessert? Or came ready to belt out a carol or two. Better yet, what if we took our tap shoes and shuffled off to Buffalo, dancing up a storm with others across the parquet.

One of my favorite guests is a very old friend who has for years meandered over to our piano after a glass or two of wine and transformed the evening with his played-by-ear jazz. It’s probably the only time in the year when I have accompaniment to “Someday My Prince Will Come” or “Misty.” I’d have him to dinner without the music, but it’s a real joy to hear him improvise so easily.

Don’t get me wrong. I know I’m the worst offender when it comes to gifts. I love taking homemade cookies and focaccia and nice bottles of wine to gatherings.

But I do think I’ll do a little triage this year. As a counterpoint to the global business debacle which has us all wishing there was more wine in the glass, I’m going to emphasize the gift of being there, and with it the idea of lifting more spirits boxes.

About the Author:

Suzanne Dunaway, a longtime major magazine writer and artist, is the author and illustrator of "Rome, At Home, The Spirit of La Cucina Romana in Your Own Kitchen" (Broadway Books) and "No Need To Knead, Handmade Italian Breads in 90 Minutes" (Hyperion). She taught cooking for 15 years privately and at cooking schools in Los Angeles, and now maintains a personal website and a blog. She divides her time between southern France and Italy.