By the time word gets around that we're ready to say grace, there's already a line of 40 people going from the doorway of my grandmother's kitchen, through the enclosed front porch, where there is a separate dessert table, and down the hall.
Uncle Neal has taken the doors off of the hinges to make extra room for the queue. The predictable first-place holder is my uncle Roscoe, whose innate sense of determining the precise time to head for the food line is uncanny.
Right behind him is my brother, Brian, who has taken - wisely - to keeping Roscoe in his sights so that he, too, can beat the rush.
By the time word gets to the end of the line that not only are we ready for grace, but that Uncle Gerald has begun blessing the food.
Uncle Gerald has, in fact, finished blessing the food and we are inching ever closer to macaroni and cheese, fried chicken and Jell-O salad.
In this spread, anything can qualify as salad, whether it contains vegetables or not.
My 82-year-old grandmother's 10 children, 22 grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren and 12 step-grandchildren, along with a raft of significant others, have gathered for Christmas lunch.
Without fail, Grandma prepares a huge pot of chicken and dumplings, plus mashed potatoes, green beans and no less than 60 fried apple pies.
Everyone else brings a dish or two, and we serve it up buffet-style on extra large Chinet trays.
We eat at the dining table, in the living room, in the front bedroom - anywhere there is a spot.
We sit on the floor, trying not to crush the pile of presents stacked under Grandma's fiber optic tree. We wait politely for turns in the one bathroom. Anyone seated just outside the bathroom must report on the vacancy status therein, with details on who's in there and for how long.
This is not the only gathering of the year, but it is the only one at which everyone appears.
Aunt Susan distributes a family directory with the latest births, new phone numbers and e-mail addresses. It has grown to a full page, front and back. The gathering is now so large that even I, with 30 years in, don't recognize everyone who comes through the door.
So I have to forgive my husband when, at our slightly smaller Thanksgiving gathering where we draw names for Christmas, he reaches into the bowl, draws out a slip of paper with a relative's name and gift request, catches my eye and mouths, "Who's that?" God bless him, we've only been married for five years.
After eating, we go into the living room, where most of us occupy the floor or stand against the wall.
Only my grandmother claims a piece of furniture for herself.
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we have done our best to keep secret whose names we drew, which is easy to do if you don't know who the person is in the first place.
We start with the oldest, Aunt Edith, who presents her gift to cousin Ted and then Ted gives his gift, and so on, until everyone has opened a present.
This exchange is easier now than it was years ago, when Grandfather's wood stove stood in the middle of the room and the moms formed a protective circle around it to keep the little ones from getting burned.
Now, the most imminent danger is not fire but being trampled in the case of one.
Thankfully, this has never happened.
The worst thing that has happened to me was missing out on Grandma's homemade biscuits because I was too far back in the line.
I exited the kitchen, only to see Uncle Dwight seated at the dining table with three biscuits stacked on the edge of his plate. I mildly chastised him, then headed to sit sentry outside the bathroom.
Being in a large family means sometimes missing out on the biscuits, or feeling a bit crowded, or enduring some level of anonymity.
As for the biscuits, I didn't mind; I had already snuck two apple pies while waiting in line.
No one goes home from Christmas lunch hungry, or without a present, or without feeling like part of something wonderful.
Actually, being in a large family is pretty great.
Word must have gotten around.