A few weeks ago, in mid-December I was chatting with a woman I had just met in Vineyard Haven in the way strangers talk when waiting for their holiday gifts to be rung up at the cash register. Suddenly she stopped the banter and said, “You should come to a party someone told me about.”

The woman explained that she had heard about this woman who was having a dinner party for 12 consecutive nights. Each night’s menu was to reflect one of the nights from the Twelve Days of Christmas. The parties were open to anyone who wanted to drop in. Best of all, they weren’t potlucks. In fact, all the host asked was that, if able, attendees bring a canned good for the Food Pantry or money for the Red Stocking Fund.

“You should definitely come with me,” the woman repeated.

I felt a tidal wave of panic crash down on me. This woman had just invited me to my own holiday party.

Growing up my childhood home was always filled with the aromas of good food and the sound of laughter and boisterous voices. The smell of chestnuts and sweet popcorn from New York city street vendors lofted up to our home and blended with the roasted meats and side dishes my mother prepared for anyone who might pop in. Her policy was to keep the door open to old friends and any person that might show up. As a result, her bustling home was a great place to be during the holidays. She had various Christmas traditions and often said that the key to a good tradition was the ability of a person to keep the spirit of the old tradition intact while weaving in something new.

I had been thinking about that memory and wondering how to give back to this Island and the people who during the summer had given me great solace and new friendships. I wondered how I could weave a new Vineyard tradition in with my mother’s one of plenty of food and a seat for whoever popped in. I came up with 12 nights of parties that reflected the Twelve Days of Christmas.

I approached my friend Polly, a fellow washashore, and asked if she wanted in on the Twelve Day party. She jumped aboard and became the pastry chef and cohostess for each night. With the acknowledgment that the Twelve Days of Christmas runs from Christmas to the Epiphany, we marshaled ahead with planning to have the parties before Christmas in order to attract the most people possible. With help from chef Daniel Campbell from the Boat House, a menu was created for each night. Eleven of the 12 meals were to be prepared by me and one night by Chef Campbell providing me with a break.

Invitations were handed out, e-mailed and posted at church. Polly coined a catch phrase for the party: Bring a friend or make one.

Never knowing who would show up made each party intriguing and wrought with anxiety. Some nights guests were boisterous teenagers and young children hungry for food and fun. Other evenings there were small groups of adults and quiet conversation.

A couple from the Pennsylvania mountains who retired to the Vineyard were both humorous and generous. The wife was a good baker and started to bring desserts each night, carefully tying them to the menu. There was a third generation Islander and plumber who made it 10 nights in a row but missed the last two to go hunting. There were handymen, ministers, children under four and plenty of folks over 40. A father and his son who run a farm up-Island came a few nights. A former computer company president stopped by as did the executive director of an Island nonprofit. A couple who hold their own traditional Christmas party in Edgartown that they sponsor every year for the West Tisbury Church came to support my new tradition.

Some nights were masterpieces of food pairing with the appropriate theme. Partridge in a pear tree night boasted steaks sauteed with pepper and onions in a pear sauce with wild rice, pear and mushroom soup, pear cider, pear infused vodka and pear and apple crisp. A little girl wore a shirt with a pear silk screened on it. Her brother carried a hand made flag emblazoned with a crayon colored picture of a pear. A woman arrived in a pair of pear-colored pants she had pulled from her closet saying she had been waiting for just the right occasion.

The French hens were easy and there was an ice cream bar as a salute to the eight maids a-milking. For the nine ladies dancing, there were tea sandwiches with shrimp and cucumbers and lady finger cookies for dessert.

Other nights were tough to match. Turtle doves had to make do with chili and baked potatoes, but there were homemade turtle candies for dessert. The lords a-leaping got a ham and the pipers piping a full turkey dinner with all the sides.

But perhaps my favorite night was number 13. The Twelve Day party was finally over and I sat on my sofa exhausted and happy not to have to cook. Then I heard a knock at the door. When I opened it I found an expectant partygoer, his hands filled with gifts and asking what was for dinner. Evidently he had lost count of the days. I thought of my mother and her tradition of opening the door for anyone who might pop in and happily extended the party another night.

Sharon-Frances Moore lives in Vineyard Haven.