Let me just say it and get it over with: I hate Thanksgiving.
I don’t mind hosting Easter dinner and I love welcoming the family for Christmas, but I really do hate Thanksgiving, and not just because it falls heavily on the shoulders of women when they have work “outside the home”. It falls heavily on the shoulders of women who do not, as well.
I don’t mind the sentiment about the day; it’s a good sentiment, and gratitude is a virtue necessary for joy — one cannot have joy, if one is not sufficiently aware of what is good in one’s life, and grateful for it.
And I am grateful, for many, many things, large and small. I tell God about the things I am grateful for, everyday, just before I tell him all the things that are bothering me, because even God is not excused from my terrible habit of kvetching.
I’ve written before about the Benedictine commitment to hospitality, which is an idea I struggle with so much I sometimes wonder if I should have been a Carmelite. No one expects anything out of them but a retired silence.
It’s not that I don’t like people. Generally speaking, I do like people; I think they’re funny, interesting, and mostly well-intended. I just don’t like being around them very much, and increasingly I wish I could communicate with everyone via skype or internet and leave all that physicality behind. This has nothing to do with love. Whom I love, I love to near-distraction. And I dearly love the people I don’t want to be around.
I hate Thanksgiving because I married into a very good, very loving Italian family, where no one wants to play the “let’s say what we’re thankful for” game because it strikes them as vulgar, and besides, they’re too full to think.
For them — largely because they don’t watch or play football or go to parades — Thanksgiving is just a day for killing yourself — really killing yourself until the next day you’re weary-unto-bowleggedness — in order to create one meal that no one is going to enjoy, no matter how delicious it is, because after the three kinds of appetizers, (hot and cold), and the salad no one actually wants, they eat lasagna or manicotti and meatballs.
And then have no room left for the turkey and trimmings.
The year I declared “NO PASTA” and served them a spinach/eggdrop soup, they sat around the table like it was a funeral. They kept asking me if this was how Germans eat Thanksgiving, and wondering why the soup couldn’t couldn’t have little macaronis and meatballs in it.
Then the table-clearing — the first round of dishes. You have to bring out nuts and fruit, to amuse those who can bear to remain at the table while the first round of dishes is going on; the other 20 people are milling around the house, making it hot. The ceiling fans go on and the windows get opened and no matter what, they all land in my little kitchen, “helping” me to make plates of food for people to take home, because the pasta was delicious and no one could eat the main course “but the turkey was nice! Moist!”
As they’re doing this, they’re also assessing the condition of my 45-year-old kitchen and suggesting how I can make it bigger and more efficient. “You can tile the walls! Make it like It’ly! You need to knock out that wall, expand the whole front of your house four feet, and then tile the walls! It could be beautiful!”
Then the nuts, the fruit, the unbelievable number of desserts — it’s not dessert unless there are pies, cookies, pastries, rice pudding, candy, a fruit salad and some gloppy-looking cake that only 6 year-old girls will eat — then the coffees and tea.
That’s just a standard Thanksgiving. And we do it again next month. And no, you’re not allowed to cheat and just cater it, although lately we are getting away with using heavy, Thanksgiving-themed paper plates for the main course. My indefatigable eighty-something Mother-in-Law still insists on coffee served in a cup and saucer, but even she says, “Enough, with the dishes. Who needs the hassle of the china and the crystal. It’s just stuff and more work and it doesn’t love you back.”
Indefatigable and wise, she is. But she’s still bringing homemade manicotti to Thanksgiving this year, just try and stop her!
This year, I have resolved that if I cannot enjoy the day for the work and the food of it — who can eat when there is so much food around? And it’s impossible to make a plate that doesn’t have food touching and stressing me out, anyway — I will give up on trying to tame Thanksgiving around here. I’m just going to grit my teeth and tough it out, even when my family — all aware that I’m a little neurotic about crumbs on the table — call my name and, when they have my attention, crumble some bread besides their plate.
I’ll just smile, as I die a little inside. Because I love these people, even if I do not completely understand their manias for food, tradition, and whole-house restructuring. Someday, it will all be gone, and I might even miss it.
Not the crumbs, not the pasta, not the ridiculous work. But I’ll miss the people, and the jokes and teasing. So, this year, I intend to give thanks for them, even as I cringe. I’ll offer it up, and be thankful, and begin my day with a prayer for all of those who don’t have the people they love around them — who are in grief, or are separated by miles, or memory, or mental anguish.
I have plenty of gratitude — every day, it seems, I feel more, and more. I’m going to work, this year, on my attitude.
And since you’ve been nice enough to read my rant, here is a recipe for you, good for Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or especially New Year’s: Brandy Alexander Pie.