by Jean Loxley-Barnard
I'm old enough to remember wearing a hat and gloves to church. That simple act of dressing up made a clear statement that something important was going on. There hasn't been a lot of dressing up in recent years except for playtime events like a dress ball.
Some of the preference for casual wear has been a good thing. Dress should not replace substance, for instance. Good friends gathering to share a casual meal do not have to impress one another. And yes, I believe we can worship in jeans in the middle of the woods quite nicely. Here's my howevers.
The first impression we make on others happens only once, and some say it happens in the first minute. The fact that God saw us first in our original birthday suit (and loved us still) shouldn't convince us that dress is inconsequential. It isn't. And we make a statement every time we decide what to wear.
The closest thing in my life today to that hat and gloves for church indelible memory is Thanksgiving dinner at my sister Ann's home. Everyone dresses; it's just a given.
We don't dress up before dinner while the preparations are in progress. In fact, we all hike up the hill to the field on the corner where the neighbors gather to play soccer in the morning. Players are aged 5 to 55, entertaining spectators leaning against the split rail fence and cheering on their loved ones, sprinkled into both teams. It's the best game of the year.
While watching football on TV later in the day we're not dressed up. Depending on whether or not the Redskins are playing, and whether or not it is a rout, the size of the audience varies. Fathers, aunts, will spend hours in the family room watching the game and/or warming by the fire. Interspersed with cheering for the home team, some of the guests will play pool in the basement, others will wind their way to the attic transformed into a wonderful getaway overlooking the peaceful neighborhood. Some will visit in the kitchen while chopping and stuffing are in progress.
After dinner there are different games. If we've forgotten over the year that my sister is Merlin and believe again that any other one of us might win Trivial Pursuit, we'll gather around the kitchen table and give that game a go. Some play while others hover and watch.
A loner may prefer the puzzle always in progress on a table somewhere, while other eyes may be riveted on the chessboard in the living room. No one is dressed up for these pasttimes.
On the day after Thanksgiving we have 'the burn' which is literally a burning of the branches and weeds that John, my brother-in-law, has gathered in the preceding months at the bottom of the hill. Some friends come just for this tradition where the game of choice is touch football. Those of us not up to playing football or climbing the hill ride behind the tractor which also carries turkey sandwiches and soft drinks.
Thanksgiving dinner is different. Everyone dresses up for Thanksgiving dinner. Teenage boys-become-men in recent years are in coat and tie, as always. They have no memory of any other attire for this occasion so there is no protest, never was. Teenage girls, super concious of their appearance in these years, may change several times before settling on one outfit, but the look is always 'dressed up.' Coats and ties, hose and heels fit right in with fancy table linens and ample candlelight and fine china.
No one begins to eat before everyone is seated, although that is the habit in a home where Mom has always been present, meals are made from scratch, and everyone eats together. Good manners have been taught and long practiced and are expected here and never seem more comfortable than at the Thanksgiving table.
My oldest nephew is in his mid twenties now, back from England with 3 degrees. Along with expressing pleasure that he will be part of the grand dinner again, I think each of us has exclaimed happy anticipation of once again tasting David's cranberry sauce. He first made the condiment in a kindergarten class project. Everyone dutifully took a tablespoon of the cranberry that first year and then begged for more.
Peter, now 21 and a serious student at Penn State, is both a natural athlete and a great pastry cook. He too continues the tradition he began in kindergarten, making cookies in a variety of shapes, which decorate the table before becoming dessert. Some of us look for angels, others dogs, traditionalists select a gingerbread shape.
Each guest is consulted on what special food he or she considers a must for this annual feast. Sometimes we bring that one dish, cooked just the way we remember Grandmother making it, sometimes my sister fits it into her menu. She and I are the only 2 who really want turnips at this meal, although we probably don't eat them at any other time of the year. Our Dad loved turnips and never fixed a holiday meal without them. I think those turnips remind us that he's there with us. And he's all dressed up.
Jean Loxley-Barnard has been a writer all her life and studied both sociology and psychology at George Washington University where she earned a B.A. Her company, The Shopper, Inc., encompasses all the Loxley-Barnard family publications - The Shopper Magazines and Doctor to Doctor Magazine. She has been in the advertising, consulting and publishing business for 39 years.