Here we are, on the downhill slide of 2013, and rushing headlong into the holiday season.
And don’t believe everything you hear about the alleged “War on Christmas.” Are you kidding me? There’s no war on Christmas! I feel pretty sure that if there were such a war, it would be nearly impossible to find Christmas decorations cluttering up the aisles of Costco in August, and Santa hats and reindeer antlers would not be available at CVS, right next to the Halloween candy.
Nope. Christmas is safe. I feel pretty sure of it. Otherwise I wouldn’t have spent an afternoon last week getting my hair cut and colored and being tortured with piped-in Christmas carols for the two-plus hours I was at the salon. (Note to self: always carry spare earbuds in purse.) If that wasn’t enough of a clue, I passed several houses wearing full Christmas light regalia on my way home that evening. Just so you have some perspective, it’s not even Thanksgiving yet.
Ah, Thanksgiving! The most underrated and ignored American holiday of them all. Well, maybe Arbor Day gets a little less attention, but you know what I mean.
In these days of make-believe wars on all things Christmas and Black Friday shopping frenzies that now begin on Thursdays, poor Thanksgiving has become all but a blip on the holiday radar. And this makes me sad, because at our house, Thanksgiving rules!
For this Jewish mother, it’s the perfect holiday. Think about it. You don’t spend weeks ahead of time shopping for Thanksgiving. There are no gifts to buy, and nothing to wrap, other than a deboned turkey carcass, after the fact. Decorating can be kept to a minimum – maybe a few turkey or pilgrim-themed tchotchkes for the table, or perhaps just a vase with fresh flowers in it. And it’s a cook’s dream! Thanksgiving revolves around food.
Thanksgiving also holds special meaning to me, because it is the only holiday I ever felt compelled to fight for. That’s right, I had to fight for the opportunity to host it.
Fortunately, or not, depending on the particular situation, my husband and I both grew up, met, married, and settled down in the same town where both of our families are from. And although it’s mostly nice to have family nearby, it can get kind of tricky to plan around holidays when everyone is so proximate.
When Mark and I were first married, my mother gave up trying to host a Thanksgiving dinner on Thanksgiving – too many married children with the accompanying in-laws to please. We started having our Thanksgiving dinner with her on Wednesday night, which left all of us kids free to eat elsewhere the next day. For us, this meant a trip across town to the in-laws. And that was fine, for a while.
As my brothers moved away, divorced and remarried, the Thanksgiving Eve ritual fell by the wayside, and the meal moved around town to whichever local brother wanted to host. It was never at my house, because we were also on the hook to attend a second meal later in the day with Mark’s family.
On his side of the equation, there was no shared responsibility. Thanksgiving was held at his parents. Period. As was the Christmas Eve meal, and another gathering on Christmas Day. Easter and Mother’s Day, too. And the birthdays of all family members. If I was lucky, we could do Father’s Day at our house. Maybe.
We were always asked to bring something, so I got to cook a little. But hosting was out of the question, which was frustrating. The year that I brought a homemade pumpkin streusel pie, which nobody ate because a store-bought Mrs. Smith’s pie was served, and Mark’s amazing homemade dressing was shunned for …gasp…STOVETOP (no, I am not making this shit up!), we agreed that something had to change. On our way home that evening, we began to plan our revolution. Next year would be different.
We were going to stage the Thanksgiving Coup of 1996.
Fortunately, it was a bloodless coup. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t get ugly.
Leading up to the coup, Mark expressed our desire and intention to host Thanksgiving at our house in the autumn of ’96. We would invite both sides of the family and some close friends. My mother was delighted. Mark’s mom? Not so much.
She didn’t see a need to move things. Thanksgiving was traditionally held at their house, and that’s where it would stay, and what would we like to bring?
“Nothing. We’re still having Thanksgiving here, Mom.”
She told him that none of his family would be attending. As long as she was physically able to prepare the Thanksgiving meal, it would be at the family home. And Mark, always my hero and never much of a mama’s boy, said “Well, we’ll miss you, but have fun!”
Freedom at last! And despite the fact that this move made us near outcasts for a stretch, we have hosted Thanksgiving at our place every year since then.
For me, it’s the best week of the year. For most of the last decade, I’ve taken the entire week off from work and focused solely on family and food. My children have helped me every year, from table-setting to potato-peeling in the early days, to preparing many of the dishes themselves as they’ve become more skilled cooks. Most everything we prepare is homemade, from scratch. As I think it should be. And we always have fun. The house always smells wonderful. There is much laughter.
Some years we have a big crowd, and other years it’s small. I’ve cooked for as few as eight, and as many as 25. Most years that crowd now includes my in-laws, who finally decided that letting someone else host a meal wasn’t such a terrible thing after all. Some years we hold a post-Thanksgiving leftover buffet on Friday, and have friends bring dishes to supplement what didn’t get eaten on T-Day.
I often ponder what it would be like to prepare a huge Thanksgiving meal for my band and their families. Do they take their sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top, or not? Dressing on the side, or stuffing in the turkey? What types of desserts are Foo-preferred? I hope that I not only get the chance to cook a smashing Thanksgiving meal for them somewhere down the line, but that I’ll be able to mesh some of my family traditions with those traditions that they love. The result would be inspired, I’m sure!
I will leave you with this: whether you are prepping the meal or just sharing in someone else’s feast this year, be thankful for that opportunity. Remember that even here, in the greatest nation in the world, there are still too many citizens who don’t have the resources to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal. Many of them will dine in a soup kitchen or church basement, and be grateful to have that chance. Others will not eat at all. Despite the seeming abundance of food in America, there are plenty of folks who go hungry, tomorrow and every day.
Don’t forget about them.