Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, but it has evolved over the years into something quite different from the ones I remember from childhood. Those were gatherings of family members who rarely saw each other the rest of the year, after the force-fed camaraderie of November and December. In those days, I was part of a large and cautiously friendly family.
The family backstory is long and complex, and I’m not sure I ever really heard it all or got it straight. And that was just on my mother’s side. My father’s relatives were equally absent most of the year, although at least they had the excuse of living out-of-town. I liked most of my relatives on both sides, but I heard a lot of grumbling from my older siblings. I think they would have preferred to be invited to Gettysburg for holiday dinners with the Eisenhowers. The result is I never learned to be part of any family, even my immediate one.
Lest this turn into bona fide cheap therapy, I’ll move on to talk about the type of Thanksgiving we have engineered to suit our needs, which we will enjoy again this year. We prefer to approach the holidays carefully. Part of the family is on the same basic diet and likes mostly the same foods. That group, which I’ll call Team Kale, will gather on Thanksgiving Day to eat lots of vegetables and lightened traditional foods.
My daughter is part of Team Kale, and every year she and I have our one family tradition moment with the raw dressing. The recipe has exact measurements except for the moistening chicken broth, so every year I add and stir until it looks right. At that point I call my daughter into the kitchen and say, “See, Megan, this is what it’s supposed to look like.”
“Right, Mama, I see” she replies as if answering ritual questions at a seder. I smile, having fulfilled the tradition, and we don’t discuss dressing again until next year.
Over the next few days, we will visit the rest of our family groups, hopefully as less a part of the problem and more solution-oriented. We’ll visit calmly, with decorum, making tentative forays and returning before dark. It may be odd, but it works for us.
The point is, we have looked into the abyss that is a ridiculously closely-spaced holiday season in America, and we have blinked. Because there are no longer aging grandparents (other than us) to accommodate with a gathering of the clan, we have managed to bring a very Kilgorean sense of order to the chaos.
Christmas will be approached with the same caution. Gift-opening was an orderly business in my childhood home. Everyone sat and watched as one person opened all their presents. Order was determined by age, progressing from the youngest to the oldest. When I married Bryan, he threw this rather Prussian approach out the window, and we adopted his family custom of taking turns opening gifts, which also ensured reactions were seen by all, but in a more happy-go-lucky format.
I’m here to tell you, holidays are complicated, family dynamics are byzantine, and neither is for the faint-hearted. I wish all of you a wonderful holiday season, starting with Thanksgiving this week. Don’t be concerned if you come to my house and see signs in the yard that say, “Slow—Rough Pavement Ahead,” or “Reduce Speed—Loose Rocks.” It’s just our way of proceeding with caution.