Words and Photo by Monica O’Malley-Tavares.

The leaves have been raked, and the garden laid to rest. I’ve tucked overflowing baskets of mittens and cozy hats by the door. The chill of late fall and early winter brings a wave of inspiring holiday nostalgia. Thanksgiving and Christmas offer the promise of tangible feasts and family time. There is nothing I find more gratifying than sitting around a bountiful table with those I love. As we have grown older many traditions have changed, yet many more offer the comfort of remaining the same.

Our Thanksgiving brings together sisters and brothers who have journeyed home, aunts and uncles, and friends who are like family. The dinner table overflows with well-stocked relish trays, steaming platters of garden-fresh squash, and mom’s ever-perfect (and delightfully bumpy) mashed potatoes. Flavorful stuffing and a perfectly cooked turkey are followed by endless choices of seasonal baked goods lovingly crafted from time-honored family recipes. We cling to this annual feast, sampling favorites long after our hunger has subsided. The meal itself is a compilation of time and effort and love; however, the conversations are what I look forward to the most. The dining room echoes with stories and laughter, reminiscences of childhood bike rides, backyard baseball games and simpler times, harmonized with an intense attempt to catch up on every detail of our current lives. We have all gathered as one to celebrate and give thanks…both for the food and for one another. It is a peaceful time of eating and drinking and sharing. It is a time of togetherness.

Christmas brings forth different traditions, yet evokes that same familiar feeling of celebrating with family, friends and delicious food. We are blessed to host Christmas Day lunch. An informal spread of glazed ham, rosemary scalloped potatoes, homemade pizzas, and salads, combined with family favorites like Portuguese favas and triple-chocolate cookies are laid out buffet-style. Christmas Day becomes a holiday open house, with family and friends traveling from room to room to share stories and food. Some gather around the kitchen island while echoes of Bing Crosby and Andy Williams serve as a perfect backdrop; others gather in front of the fireplace, ornaments from a lifetime of Christmases sparkle on the nearby glowing tree. The dining room, adorned with holiday touches of fresh-cut evergreen boughs and clove-studded oranges, becomes a cozy meeting place. The house is alive with family, tradition, and affection for those around us.

It is with true bliss that I watch our family’s holiday customs continue year after year. Yet I have grown to accept the next generation’s role of gently fine-tuning and altering what has come before them. The holidays will always hold joyful memories of my childhood merged with all of the new memories I have formed along the way. My enthusiasm for these traditions becomes a constant and reliable place, a feeling I am “home” again. And for that I am grateful.

Monica O’Malley-Tavares lives in coastal Massachusetts, where open farmland and salty sea merge into one. In late fall and early winter, you can find her preparing seasonal drinks and food to share with family and friends.