I used to think the best thing about Thanksgiving was that it held Christmas at bay for a few weeks because, frankly, two months of love and goodwill toward one’s fellow man is just too much. I don’t have enough peace and milk of human kindness in me to last from Halloween to New Year’s. But Thanksgiving has been falling down on the job for some time now, and this year I saw Christmas cards on sale before Halloween. You guys, I’ve had it with Thanksgiving.
I don’t have a problem with appreciating the good things in one’s life or the actual giving of thanks. I think that’s a worthwhile pursuit. What I don’t like are the rituals associated with the holiday: the parade, the football, the food. My God, the food. I’m a picky eater, and between the foods I don’t like and the ones that I’m afraid of (cranberry sauce), I eat the same things every year: turkey, rolls, mashed potatoes, and fuit salad, which adds some much needed color to a plate that is otherwise uniformely white. I do go back for pie and spend half the day mindlessly munching on cookies, but somehow I never quite eat enough to satisfy my grandmothers. I should be eating more, apparently, and it makes the holiday seem like an extreme eating contest. Ugh.
One of the best Thanksgivings I ever had was just after I graduated from college. I couldn’t go home that year because I had to work before and after the holiday, and I was bummed at first. But then I ordered pizza and watched a Buffy the Vampire Slayer marathon. I mean, sure, that’s also how I sometimes celebrate the national holiday known as “Saturday,” but I had the whole house to myself and it was a quiet, peaceful, relaxing day. And I was thankful for that. I will admit that I missed my family, though.
There are plenty of holiday movies that remind you how awful it is to spend time with your relatives–or worse still, with your significant other’s relatives–before circling back around to celebrate the importance and wonder of family. But I’ll admit up front that I like spending time with my relatives, especially during the traditional card and domino games. It’s the equivalent of blood sport in my family. Growing up with these people, I know where to sit at the table to have the best shot at winning, but it’s a family secret. You come over to play with us, you’re on your own. So, pick your chair wisely. Some of us are more cutthroat than others, and while I like to win, if I’m losing badly, I can still enjoy myself. My uncle allegedly got so upset once over a bridge game that he made his wife cry. My grandmother yelled at a friend of my cousin’s who kept forgetting to draw his card before each turn. My brother, though, is a mercenary, and he doesn’t mind coming in dead last if he can take someone down with him. I think he prefers it, actually.
I realize that may not sound like a recipe for warm family memories, but I really like it. It gives us a communal experience to chat about. Then, as we shuffle the cards or arrange our dominoes, we ask each other about work or people we know. We start telling stories, which reminds us of other stories, and soon we’re talking about stuff we would never have thought to bring up on our own. So, we talk trash and catch up at the same time. It’s how we do “sweet” in my family.
My Aunt Meg is coming in for a few days this year, which I’m really excited about. I guess I’m not completely giving up on the holiday yet. So, in the spirit of the season, here are a few things I’m grateful for: Thanks to Julie for letting me borrow/steal the new Sarah Vowell book, where I’m hoping to learn lots of weird Pilgrim facts. Gracias for Meg and her husband, Larry, for being very cool about it when I overslept breakfast and showed up late and bed-headed. Merci for the Tuesday night trivia folks who keep letting me play even though I know all the wrong kinds of useless facts. And while it’s cliche, I do have some really great family and friends. On Thursday, I will celebrate them repeatedly with forkfuls of pie just like our forefathers would have wanted.