RSS

Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

The Homecoming

folger

Thanksgiving is the most unique of American days. It is a holiday celebrated primarily in the home and centered entirely upon food and family. And it is the latter that can become a wee bit problematic. Any venture that is steeped in expectation and sentimentality has an increased probability of going off the rails. When we add forced congeniality things can get messy indeed. People, related by blood or the law, who may not see or have any contact (perhaps by choice) throughout the year are sequestered in overheated, crowded, booze filled homes with carving knives. Even when there is no extended family, things may get testy. One of the frequently overlooked potential land mines is that of the returning college student.

Thanksgiving is often the first time a college student is coming home since the start of the semester. Parents and younger siblings most likely have been anticipating the return of the prodigal son or daughter. Parents and siblings have fantasized or actually planned outings and activities, hoping to make up for lost time. Even the parent who has been in constant communication with the college student may have his or her heart set on “really connecting” come the Thanksgiving holiday. And who knows it may go splendidly and put every sentimental holiday commercial to shame (Peter you’re home!) But for everyone else it might be helpful to keep the following in mind:

• College can be exhausting. Whether your student is working hard or playing hard, they most likely are pooped. Spending 24 hours, 7 days a week with thousands (if not tens of thousands) of people is hardly relaxing. Excessive sleeping should be expected (and you should establish that it is not happening at school and possibly an indication of something amiss.)

• A cranky or petulant student is perfectly normal as well. Remember they’ve spent the last 3 months (and your money) discovering that they now know everything. Do not be surprised if your cherub challenges Uncle Dave at the dinner table. Don’t shirk from challenging him/her right back either.

• Your student might also show signs of regression: fighting with younger siblings or being a thoughtless slob. This too is normal. Living amongst so many people and wearing an “I’m keeping up I know what’s going on” persona is taxing. Knowing they don’t have to be grown-up or fake being grown-up all the time is important. However they can let their guard down and clear their own plate at the same time.

• Having reasonable expectations of your student’s time is fine, but not if you spring it on them. If you expect them to spend the entire day (and night) of the holiday at home and socializing, do let them know ahead of time. What of the student who is bringing someone home? If you have expectations (which you are entitled to have) about sleeping arrangements or meal contributions, express them ahead of time. Nothing breeds disappointment more than silent expectations.

As with any event (particularly one involving family) the best approach is one of gratitude. Eliminating glossy images of perfection is prudent. Focusing on the gift of time and connectivity produces far more joy. Before you know it that student arriving on your doorstep with dirty laundry, a tinge of arrogance and little indication of appreciation will be hosting you at their own Thanksgiving. You will sit at their table as they tell their own family the stories of Thanksgiving’s past. And that is why we give thanks.

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 21, 2013 in Childhood, Holiday, Well-Being

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Wattle Twaddle

turkey

It’s two weeks until Thanksgiving! You know what that means? Any second now the talking heads and “experts” will rise up and moan and rail against retail. Suddenly the plight of the employee and the sanctity of family will take on grave importance. The siren song of the big box store will lure people away from the sacredness of their nuclear hearth! How dire it is to impose commercialism onto such a pure holiday! Never mind the millions of turkey and pilgrim tchotcke festooning tables and mantels. Disregard the families barcalounged in front of football games all. day. long. It is shopping that threatens to erode this holy Norman Rockwell day!

“People shouldn’t have to work on Thanksgiving”; the bobble talking heads will shout. I suppose we should close the hospitals, police force & diners as well. Lots of people work on Thanksgiving. Do we expect the secret service or any branch of the military to lay down their arms and hoist a drumstick? I’m not sure anyone would want pilots, gas station attendants or bus drivers to have the day off. It’s interesting that retail employees are often the concern during this sacred poultry time. Retail workers regularly work evenings and weekends and often quite erratic schedules. Depending upon the shop they can be forced to wear a uniform and carry a see-though bag containing their belongings (the assumption being that they steal.) Retail workers are often on their feet all day long, not allowed to use the same bathroom as the customers and not given their week’s work schedule until the last minute. Throughout most of the year their interests aren’t exactly a priority. Let us just assume the moaners/ranters are just grasping at (cheese) straws and spouting twaddle.

But what of the family?! Whose family exactly? Is there a family so functional and fun loving and their time together so sacred? Is this fictional (if not entirely creepy) family so enamored with each other yet powerless to resist the charms of a doorbuster sale? Many many people do not have a family or one with whom they’d like to be sequestered. To impose some ideal onto every single person is if not callous than surely annoying. Would anyone care if family members went to the movies (spending obscene amounts of money to sit in dark silence together?) What is it about shopping that rankles the pundits? Is it that the shopping in question is for Christmas? Is the melding of holidays the equivalent of “my corn is touching my sweet potatoes!!!!”? If that’s it I suggest they take on the Thanksgiving/Chanukah synchronized celebrating of 2013.

I suspect that at the core of the whining is that any kind of change can make people cranky. Thanksgiving is nothing else if not a holiday revered for its stasis. We eat the same exact foods every year (heaven help the host who changes the stuffing recipe!) We go to or watch the same parade or movies. We take the post-feast walk or nap. There’s nothing wrong with clinging fast to the comfort of tradition. But there are lots of people out there with lots of different needs and desires. The idea that there is only one way to do something is a bit offensive. There’s a reason we serve more than one kind of pie.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 14, 2013 in Holiday, Well-Being

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Let Your Heart Be Light*

charlie brown

The days are getting noticeably shorter and carbohydrate cravings are growing stronger. By mid-October there’s no denying that there’s a change a coming. The first scattering of little costumed people and dogs have appeared (either going to pre-Halloween celebrations or having trick-or-treating dry runs.) By this weekend the streets will be alive with all manner of elaborate costume. Children will take on the mantle of popular movie, cartoon and video game characters. Young (and not so young) women will dress as slutty; nurses, waitresses, devils and angels. It will all build to the crescendo that is the Village Halloween Parade, an event that celebrates wit, witticism, irony and drag. And then ladies and gentlemen the party really gets started.

Before the last candy corn has been eaten (or tossed) it will be time for “the holidays.” As you pull the fake cobwebs down from your walls you will be implored (by television, radio, podcast, website, magazine, and newspaper) to perfect your turkey. Every year the “experts” come out to tell us the failsafe way to remedy our annual poultry failings. Personally I have never known any Thanksgiving that hinged upon the perfection of the bird. There is way too much family drama (not too mention side dishes) to really focus on grading the turkey. Besides, isn’t gravy’s job to democratize and flavor? But never us mind, the airwaves will blast with brining, frying, boning promises. Tips for new and exciting ways to invent old favorites will appear. As if Thanksgiving is a cocktail party not a holiday celebrating tradition and very specific foods. Let’s face it the only help any of us need, short of an invitation to someone else’s house, is the Butterball hotline. Those little holiday angels make up for every bad customer service phone bank everywhere. We love you Butterball!

While all this media “filler” (or should we call it “stuffing?”) occurs, the rumbling of the real “holidays” train can be heard. The “holidays” as we now seem to call Christmas, begin to be feverishly pitched earlier and earlier, but still subscribes to a certain; Thanksgiving first, etiquette. At 11:58 AM EST Thanksgiving Day, Santa Claus heads into Herald Square signaling that it is now polite to discuss his special day. (By the way, if there is any confusion over the overt euphemism of “the holidays” pay close attention this year. Chanukah will be over on December 5th yet dollars to donuts the talking heads will still be referring to last minute “holiday” shopping and “holiday” gift ideas until December 24th.) There is actually much to be said of this time of year. People’s spirits (outside of shopping malls and large toy stores) are lifted and light. Everything looks prettier as Christmas wreaths and trees pop up in even the most secular of locations. If you’re lucky, invitations and chances to dress up increase and there may even be presents.

For some however, it’s mostly frenzy. Even if you don’t work as a Christmas elf, chances are your workload dramatically increases before “the holidays.” Deadlines and meetings get squished into that après Thanksgiving, pre-getting the hell out of town, period. People (and by people we mean mostly women) who feel it’s their responsibility to create the holiday, don’t necessarily bask in the sights and sounds of the season. There are many people whose activity or responsibilities don’t seasonally increase, but their loneliness or sadness does. Even those not mired in loss or illness, may find this time of year triggering a short-term discrete melancholy. Memories can be haunting as can unfulfilled dreams. Whether we’re leading the holiday charge or feeling the parade is passing us by, it’s important to keep in touch with how we’re feeling. For people who love nothing more than a 4-page to-do list and arms filled with shopping bags, there’s not much internal checking in that needs to occur this time of year. But those little Santa’s helpers are in a great position to check-in on those around them. Everyone knows someone who’s suffered a loss or is naturally fragile. This time of year provides ample opportunity to reach out. Issue invitations or drop by with small gifts or treats. All that matters is that you connect. For those who have a hard time, know your triggers. Step away from the television, especially when It’s A Wonderful Life comes on. Stay away from places that feel overwhelming or lonely. Do less that you don’t enjoy and more that you do. Plan lovely things for yourself. Is there a book you’ve been meaning to read, a place you’d like to visit, a food you’d like to try? Now is the time to plan gifts for yourself. It may seem as if the whole world is trimming a perfect tree, clinking egg nog glasses and singing carols. But the truth of the matter is that very few people actually live in a fantasy world. Most of us struggle in one way or another, and knowing that can be a great comfort.

The best we can do, this time or anytime of year, is to not get ahead of ourselves. Christmas and the New Year are four days of celebration two months away. There are over 60 days worth celebrating until then.

*Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (1943) – Ralph Blane & Hugh Martin

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Thanksgiving

Christmas seems to start earlier every year. The holiday is on the same day (December 25) every year, which is a rare character trait in a religious holiday. But the engines seem to start before the leaves on the tree have become the leaves on the ground. A completely unscientific and utterly unsubstantiated analysis (known more commonly as the “because I say so” analysis) would suggest that the retailing of Christmas pushes back one full week every five years. Now before you get all “wait a minute, how many revolutions of the calendar are we on now”, no this phenomenon did not start 2012 years ago. It began somewhere around the time when shopping became more than a means to an end.

Christmas is make or break time for most retailers. End of year sales account for the biggest percentage of their annual sales. (Depending on the type of retail, back-to-school can be a close second.) Naturally, retailers long for a longer period of time to bolster sales. It isn’t necessarily intuitive that a longer period creates more sales. The goal (i.e., presents under the tree) is theoretically the same regardless of the time it’s given to achieve. But sales must increase or why else would it be done? It is hard to imagine how a longer span of time spent with blaring Christmas songs pummeled into our ears makes us spend more. Increased exposure to Christmas themed merchandise wears down the novelty. Ten weeks of eyeing Santa themed apparel will lead to the realization; “Wait. I’m giving this to him/her on Christmas Day! When will they wear this? Next late October?!” What’s clearer is that ‘doorbuster’ sales gets ’em in the store. It’s safe to assume that a fair percentage of those $5 flat screen televisions aren’t going under the tree but up on the bleary eyed shoppers’ wall.

This year even more retailers are pushing their ‘busting’ back. Black Friday is becoming the power-shopping day for amateurs as Thanksgiving Day shopping comes into its own. This rankles some people. Thanksgiving is seen as a sacred family time. It is one of the few times of year that people come together simply to be together. The dining table is heaped with tangible proof of tradition and longevity. It’s also the holiday (perhaps like Christmas) when most of the responsibility for making it happen falls to one member of the family. Unlike Christmas it’s a holiday when some people (who perhaps did not prepare the meal and unearth all the serving ware) park themselves in front of the television for a sport marathon. For some (if not many) the holiday is spent with people who are (or who have been) mean to them or are flat out obnoxious. For many others there is no one to share the holiday (either by choice or not.) In other words; Thanksgiving is not sacred to everyone.

If shopping is a way out of the house, and a way to choose how one’s time is spent, so be it. Those 5 AM drastically reduced priced household appliances and toys are a huge help to many families. They will help to make Christmas happen for many who could really use a break. For others who are doing okay, those heavily discounted items will help them with their (much needed) gift donations this year.

There is nothing sacred about Thanksgiving; it just feels like that because all the other really sacred holidays have been co-opted. It is a delicious holiday, with a great parade and for some of us lucky ones, some wonderful and loving memories. For some it’s a much needed and rare day off with an opportunity to make a serious impact on their to-do list. There’s more than one way to experience this or any other day. I would no more take to the sprawling front lawn with a football in hand than I would take a fork to a tofurky. But lots of people would (okay, lots of people would play touch football and some people would eat tofurky.) Just like there’s always room for more pie, there’s room for everyone and their choices this time and every time of year.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on November 21, 2012 in Holiday, Well-Being

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

We Gather Together

It’s almost time.  The turkey is defrosting, the wine has been purchased and we’ve unearthed the tablecloth.  We are poised for that magical holiday: when our family gathers around the groaning table for the annual telling of the “Time We Left Brenda At The Parade (and blithely journeyed on to Thanksgiving dinner without her)” story.  As the first words are uttered, eager faces turn upwards and the chattering ceases.  We settle into a quaint familial posture, reveling in this heartwarming tradition.  The story never alters.  The ending always the same.  The mother invokes her; “I knew she didn’t do it on purpose” line.  (Dear reader, I implore you not to spend too much time wondering how a child leaves herself at the parade on purpose.)  The father shamefaced, swears he has reformed his communicating ways.  And then we eat.

The variety of food is more or less the same regardless of who hosts.  The turkey has the most variation from year to year.  Butterball, free range, organic, kosher, we’ve had them all.  Under-cooked and over-cooked, we’ve lived to celebrate another year.  Sweet potatoes have been canned, candied, mashed and stewed.  I’m here to tell you, it makes no difference whatsoever.  Change recipes if you’re bored, knock yourself out if you love to cook.  But whatever you do, don’t worry about it.  No one cares.  This is not the time to channel Billie Burke in Dinner At Eight.  No one gives a hoot about the aspic.  You are not preparing for a gourmet magazine photo shoot (which is a good thing considering what they do to the food to have it photograph well!)  People are coming to your home because they want to be with you.  They are delighted to not be cooking AND to be fed.  They don’t care what state your home is in (as long as you have the necessities in the loo.)  They are not measuring the viscosity of your gravy or the moisture level of your bird.  There’s no such thing as a flaky crust in a pumpkin pie, and no one cares if you made all or none of it yourself.  Being knackered is no way to enjoy a holiday.  Buy what you can, prepare ahead of time and above all else, delegate.  People like to feel needed.

Thanksgiving is one of the few holidays we have that’s sole intent is gratitude.  There are no cards, gifts, tips or parties.  The only societal expectation is that we gather with family and/or friends, eat and drink in excess and give thanks for the opportunity to do so.  This year, just like every year, after the last bit of pie has been scraped out of the dish, and the top buttons have been opened, one of us will chime; “remember that year we all had the flu and the ones who could keep food down had turkey t.v. dinners?”  That, dear reader is what great Thanksgiving memories are made of.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 22, 2011 in Cultural Critique, Holiday

 

Tags: , , , , , ,