TORONTO - If you don't want to figure out how many hours per pound are needed to cook a turkey, never mind remembering to remove the giblets before hoisting the big bird into a roasting pan, a takeout Christmas dinner with all the trimmings may be just the ticket.
It seems there are many catering companies and hotels across the country willing to help those who have neither the time nor inclination to make a festive dinner.
Nancy Taylor ordered her Christmas as well as Thanksgiving feasts for about five years.
"It started off because I was very ill and I had just been in recovery and Thanksgiving was around the corner," the Toronto resident said. She'd read an article about a turkey-to-go program offered by a downtown hotel, checked it out and decided to go ahead.
Since the dinner was only for her husband, father-in-law and her, she thought, "OK, why am I going to go crazy, get all the food and stuff like that, when I can just do this turkey to go?"
The dinner consisted of a cooked organic turkey that was just out of the oven when picked up from the Royal York, plus soup, stuffing, gravy, roasted potatoes, vegetables, biscuits and dessert.
"It was easy," the 45-year-old financial adviser's assistant said from her office. "There was no inconvenience of getting up really early in the morning other than going to pick up the turkey."
She admits to being surprised the first time that so many others had the same idea. She and her husband thought, "Oh, it was just a one-off; people didn't really do this," and then discovered "loads of families there" when they went to pick up their dinner.
Jane Rodmell said her midtown Toronto store All the Best Fine Foods has been making Christmas dinners for about five years and each year more customers take advantage.
"It's largely convenience, the constraints of time, maybe in some younger households people don't like to cook much anymore, and the idea of having 20 family members over for a holiday dinner, the idea of cooking it yourself is too much to cope with," she said.
Customers include people who have downsized and no longer have space to store huge roasting pans and the other culinary paraphernalia needed to hold a festive dinner. Other people heading to a ski chalet for the holiday will pick up their dinner and take it with them.
"A good holiday feast takes quite a lot of time and preparation," Rodmell said, noting that her kitchen starts many weeks ahead of the holiday getting in supplies and making stock for gravy.
Only foods that reheat well are included on the takeout menu and instructions are given for reheating.
Some people prefer to cook their own turkey and purchase side dishes from deli counters, markets or specialty gourmet stores. Other people might buy entrees for guests who are vegetarian.
"It used to be there was a mom at home or grandparents or aunts or relatives would get together and have a cooking bee to make Christmas puddings and Christmas cakes, some mincemeat, but I don't think that is part of our urban tradition in most households anymore," Rodmell said.
Heather Sampson, who teaches in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto and also runs a research program at one of the city's hospitals, said her guests can fluctuate from 10 to 25 throughout Christmas Day with "young people, old people, little people, in-between people and visiting people."
Often there are elderly relatives to chauffeur around to ensure they have can partake in some festive cheer. She has four adult children, who might leave partway through the day to go to a partner's home or ask that a few friends be included.
Circumstances several years ago dictated ordering Christmas dinner, but now she "quite happily" continues to buy from Rodmell's company.
She likes "the total reliability. Nothing's burned, nothing gets left on the stove too long ... It really does mean you can spend some quality time with your family instead of being stuck in the kitchen."
And is there ever condescension when others learn the Christmas dinner came from elsewhere than your own kitchen?
"I know when I've told people I've done turkey to go they've kind of given me this look like they think you're lazy or they think there's something wrong with you or maybe you have too much money," said Taylor. "But really the convenience they don't get is that once you do it you really don't want to go back."
Sampson, 59, who loves to cook, said she's never thought anyone disparaged her choice though she admits feeling trepidation the first time as to whether the purchased dinner would be as delicious as her own home cooking.
"I think it would have been self-imposed my inability to fit that perfect Norman Rockwell painting, but none of the folk in his paintings worked full-time outside of the home at that point. The dads did, but the moms didn't. And my husband is not about to (prepare the dinner) either," she said.
"It's a huge amount of work, a huge amount of prep and thought and shopping."
Don't wait until the final countdown to Christmas to order your feast. Most places have a deadline.
This year, All the Best Fine Foods is charging $22.95 per person for a prix fixe turkey dinner (desserts and additional side dishes are extra). There's free local delivery on Christmas Eve. The Royal York's price is $195 for four people and includes dessert. A turkey dinner, including dessert, from Sunterra Market costs $21.99 a person. It must be picked up from their Calgary or Edmonton locations on Dec. 23 or 24 and reheated. At the Westin Nova Scotian in Halifax, there's an 11 a.m. pickup Dec. 24 or 25 for a full dinner, including soup and dessert, that costs $215 for eight to 10 servings.
Just put everything out on nice china and it will look as if you spent hours in the kitchen.