Ted Lasso, Ted Lasso Season 2, Richmond Football Club, Suzanne Pollak, Suzanne Pollak Column, Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits, CHS Academy, Charleston Academy


Members and coaching staff of the Richmond Football Club gather for an unorthodox holiday in Season 2, Episode 4 of Ted Lasso, titled “Carol of the Bells.” | Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

Togetherness Is the Reason for the Season

By Suzanne Pollak

If this is your year to host the annual holiday meal, and the table will be set to include your inner family circle and members of your larger world, it’s time to think about a menu that will best serve all your guests.

Genuine hospitality is about warmth and kindness, making others feel welcome and comfortable. It may be time to ask your guests if they would like to include a dish that is memorable for them, a part of their own family tradition.

I can think of two cinematic depictions of this holiday spirit—one not so successful and the other a perfect example of the magic and kinship that can happen when you respect other’s traditions, as well as your own.

The first is a scene from the 2005 film The Family Stone, a modern holiday classic of dysfunction. The visiting girlfriend character of Meredith Morton, played with palpable anxiety by Sarah Jessica Parker, desperately tries to find a place in her boyfriend’s tightly knit and oddball family by making a strata, an egg casserole that her own family traditionally served on Christmas morning (an idea that came from the film’s writer and director Thomas Bezucha’s holiday memories of his grandmother’s signature dish). Unfortunately, nothing goes right, and the strata ends up on the floor. But the recipe lives on. Do a digital search for “Morton family strata” and discover how many people identified with this scene and now make the strata in their own homes. In that way, I guess it was a success.

A much lovelier scene of holiday inclusivity is from the Apple TV+ series Ted Lasso. Team manager Higgins, played with great humanity by Jeremy Swift, extends a standing holiday invitation to any footballers away from their families to join his own—five young sons and a wonderfully congenial wife, Julie, played by Swift’s real-life wife, Mary Roscoe.

This year, many of the players come, bringing their special family/national food and drink, from Nigerian jollof rice and traditional Mexican ponche de frutas to French foie gras and champagne. The house overflows with the Higgins family and all the footballers, and together, they create a long makeshift table, which even includes a surfboard. Standing at the head, Higgins mentions each player’s hometown (using the actual hometowns of the actors) and says that while he knows they would prefer to be with their own families, it is an honor for his family to host them and to “share our traditions and help make a few new ones.” And he finishes with a toast: “To the family we’re born with, and to the family we make along the way.”

“To the family we’re born with, and to the family we make along the way.”

This year, I am taking my holiday inspiration from that satisfying scene. As a mother of four, I have sons, a daughter, daughters-in-law, a son-in-law, grandchildren, and a new marriage with my husband, who has his own children. We will include their family holiday traditions and blend to make new ones together.

After years of hosting holiday celebrations, my best advice is to go backward first—think of the desired result and how to get there. The goal is to create memorable, loving moments with the hope that they will become iconic holiday memories. Three such memories stand out in my own life.

I was eighteen the first time I ate Thanksgiving dinner. After living abroad for years, we were back in New York City in my family’s apartment. A German friend was visiting—a man who had managed intercontinental hotels all over Africa. He took one look at the turkey my mother pulled from the stove (she was not a skillful cook) and banished everyone from the little kitchen. Soon after, he presented a fully carved and put-back-together turkey in one piece. It was magical. My first idea of Thanksgiving was modeled after this professional perfection, and I chased after it for years.

The next Thanksgiving in my memory comes from bringing together a community of two dozen over four days, which was something I was equipped to handle at that season in my life. With children in middle school, high school, and college, I had a large family, favorite relatives from far away, friends who would have been alone on the holiday, and a beautiful house. So, I organized a four-day Wednesday-to-Sunday Thanksgiving extravaganza.

Wednesday’s dinner was deviled crabs and country captain chicken. Thursday morning meant sauteed pears and buttermilk pancakes while everyone wandered in and out of the kitchen, lending their hands, help, and advice to complete the production of the feast, which I had started a month before, to be served at four o’clock in the ballroom. With twenty to twenty-five people sitting around a long table covered in heavy linen cloths, gleaming brass candlesticks, pink sasanqua picked from my garden arranged in silver cups down the middle of the table, and apple green antique china, our feast included a fried turkey, roast turkey, all manner of sides and stuffing, and five different pies. Then came a casual Friday night: we roasted oysters in the driveway and served gumbo in the garden. Saturday was steak night and ginger cheesecake and charades. Sunday morning, I defrosted my huge sticky buns made in October, and we chatted and drank coffee and recovered. The whole extravaganza was extraordinary in experience and exhaustion. I am thrilled—and proud—that I arranged all that. But those days are over!

Ted Lasso, Ted Lasso Season 2, Richmond Football Club, Suzanne Pollak, Suzanne Pollak Column, Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits, CHS Academy, Charleston Academy

Members and coaching staff of the Richmond Football Club gather for an unorthodox holiday in Season 2, Episode 4 of Ted Lasso, titled “Carol of the Bells.” | Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

Just a few years later, after divorce and recovering from a breast cancer operation, my Thanksgiving shrank in size to one son and his wife bringing a delicious duck they had roasted and a huge chocolate turkey that stood in for both centerpiece and dessert. We feasted on my tiny balcony overlooking Church Street—an unconventional moment that has become a fond memory.

Four years later, now newly married to a man with his own children and grandchildren, we have multiple families to consider on our first holidays together. Thanksgiving will be a blended mix of some of my children and grandchildren and his. The first weekend in December, we have scheduled an early Christmas celebration honoring his family’s traditions with his children and grandchildren. Christmas morning will continue a newly minted, three-year-old tradition with my friend Autumn: our annual pop-up Christmas breakfast on the Cooper River in Charleston for friends far away from their families who bring their family/national food and drink (the varied menu resembles the one in Ted Lasso). On New Year’s Eve, we will join our pasta-making posse in our Italian friend’s kitchen.

To satisfy the largest number of people, I am making a Thanksgiving chart for each person to fill out, from youngest to oldest. What is their favorite or must-have for Thanksgiving? Would they like to cook anything, or would they prefer to oversee one job, from table setting and flower arranging to cleaning up or whatever else captures their interest?

Lesson learned and applied for my new holiday: Thanksgiving is not about mastering a solo performance. It’s about mixing it up with audience participation. Enjoy yours! You might learn something, too.

— V —

Suzanne Pollak, a mentor and lecturer in the fields of home, hearth, and hospitality, is the founder and dean of the Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits. She is the coauthor of Entertaining for Dummies, The Pat Conroy Cookbook, and The Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits: A Handbook of Etiquette with Recipes. Born into a diplomatic family, Pollak was raised in Africa, where her parents hosted multiple parties every week. Her South Carolina homes have been featured in the Wall Street Journal Mansion section and Town & Country magazine. Visit CharlestonAcademy.com or contact her at Suzanne@CharlestonAcademy.com to learn more.

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