So I went to this potluck on the weekend. Not your average cabbage roll and perogy kind of potluck, though. I was invited to the Prince Albert Multicultural Council's Christmas potluck. This has become somewhat an exciting event in my life, as it happens monthly and the more often I go, the more I anticipate the next one.
For those of you who are not familiar with the PAMC potlucks, they are probably Prince Albert's best kept secret.
You arrive at this nondescript building, no fancy sign or neon "open" light. Walking in the doors you enter in a somewhat tiny little lobby, but as you make your way down the hall you begin to notice how warm and welcoming it is, how the colours and sounds become homey and comforting. You enter into the main area, part dining hall, part kitchen.
Bookshelves line one wall in the kitchen nook, Christmas tree and decorations on another wall, sound system at the back with soft holiday music. Dining tables and chairs are arranged in rows so long they reach from one end to the other, encouraging people to sit in larger groups, to socialize and become friends.
The buffet table is arranged, cold dishes at one end, main courses in the middle and unending desserts overflowing onto counters, as there are far too many to fit. You peruse the plates and platters, salads and meats, smelling and wondering.
Every dish on the table from another culture, spices and seasonings far too complex for me to identify, but absolutely mouth watering aromas. Some are labelled, some are mysterious and tempting, some are obvious and familiar. Grace is said.
In six different forms. It is a recognition of thanks in many words, some of another language, some sung beautifully in a slow soft voice.
Everyone present is invited to share their form of praise or thanks or blessing, and many do. Everyone is accepting and respectful, patient and kind as the many "graces" are completed. And then it's time to eat. With such an overwhelming array of choices, you must choose wisely.
My method is to take a small spoonful of everything I don't immediately recognize. Salads with bean sprouts and noodles of some kind, chicken roasted in a sweet sauce, little patties of breaded fish, vegetables roasted, rice steamed with meat. You can't possibly name it all, put a label on it and know immediately. It's a guessing game, a surprise and a wonderful meal.
You make your way finally to a seat, by some stroke of luck finally deciding on a dessert -- the choices are endless. And at just the one table you are seated at, there are three different languages being spoken, but the message is the same -- what a wonderful meal, have you tried this, is that delicious, can I try some of what you have.
The children have bits of this and tastes of that, but usually disappear to the children's room before too long, playing with each other as if they had known each other for years.
There is no awkwardness, no social rules at that age, just play. They may not be able to pronounce each others' names, but a puzzle is a puzzle all the same. Games and toys are shared and discovered together.
Santa makes an appearance and presents are handed out to children of all cultures, just the common magic of the imagination at work. Shy smiles and wary infants, watching Santa closely. Prizes are drawn for, beautiful handmade blankets and quilts, and are eagerly and honestly received by young and old.
And as the meal winds down, plates are washed, many helping hands make quick work of the dishes — coming together without ever being asked. Others are folding up the tables and stacking the chairs, and the room seems suddenly empty and quiet, transformed.
This is the magic of the PAMC, transforming your Saturday into an event, an entirely new world within, a mix of culture and food, friends and familiars. And as you walk out the doors at the end feeling somewhat reluctant to return to your routine, you eagerly anticipate the next one.