When I was a kid, Thanksgiving was always at Aunt Susie’s house. We’re a family of gatherers, so we would have 50 or so family and friends for supper. Preparations began at least a week in advance. First you set out all the serving dishes and put a note in each so you can keep track of what side dish goes where.
Then, the roasting would start.
We would have two turkeys, one ham from a huge prehistoric boar of some sort, one roast beast, pounds and pounds of steamed shrimp, the requisite two dozen sides, and then some quirky things like TWO kinds of parsnips even though Uncle Gary is the only person in the known universe who can stomach that vegetable.
One of my favorite food preparation rituals is the tearing of the bread for the stuffing. The weekend before Thanksgiving, we kids would sit at Aunt Susie’s kitchen table and tear bread into small pieces. Even though any mutant could get it done right, my mother would still demonstrate the proper bread-tearing technique every year. We would put the torn bread in Giant Food paper grocery bags (remember those?), add the seasonings, and then shake the bag to distribute the sage and such evenly. (That was a pretty brilliant food prep idea, come to think of it.)
On the big day, tons of people would roll in with booze, treats, and dessert. We would eat until it hurt, shoot some pool or play Aunt Susie’s slot machines, and then eat some more. Eventually, the booze would kick in and an occasional argument or two would break out. But mostly what I remember is the wonderful smells and the buzz in the air. Christmas supper paled in comparison, probably because it was at the end of the Holiday Excess Arc and we had all been in and out of each other’s lives for six weeks by then and were ready for a break.
To my mind, Thanksgiving is the best of all holidays. I wish that all of America felt more of a reverence for this most special and uniquely American celebration. I’m writing this at my local coffee shop where Christmas carols have already been playing for a week. The news this year is full of stories about expanded shopping hours on “Black Friday” and reminders (as if any of us could forget it) of the world’s tenuous financial condition and our implied responsibility to fix it by buying really important things like singing fish for the walls and light-up Christmas boxer shorts. On credit, if possible.
I wish we could remember that this holiday marks the beginning of an official period that should be dedicated to gratitude. More Thanks. And honestly — for us women — a whole lot Less Giving.
This Thursday marks the beginning of every woman’s most exhausting time of the year when we push ourselves to add even more cooking, cleaning, shopping, decorating, charity, creativity, kid programs, and such to our already full “normal” schedule of over-functioning.
While the media certainly plays a role in encouraging us to over-participate in needless spending and activity, I think it is we women ourselves who bear the responsibility for the over-responsibility we feel. Moment of truth here – aren’t you already having conversations with your girlfriends about shopping, entertaining, and kids’ activities?
The women I know already have anticipatory glazed over expressions when you ask them about their plans for the holidays. No one talks about subtracting any of our usual responsibilities so we get to take a turn in the celebrations, too. I’m as guilty as anyone else. I worked all weekend long writing for you because I MUST publish every Monday and Thursday, even if you are too busy to read it and probably wouldn’t desert me forever if I took a couple of days off.
Why do we do this? None of the men in my family have started talking and planning how they are going to “get the next six weeks done.” We had supper with a couple of our grown sons on Saturday and the entire conversation was about upcoming Holiday sporting events. No Black Friday plans, no tree trimming ideas, no special menus or offers to help with the shopping and decorating and cleaning and cooking. No suggestions for teaching the younger brothers about charity and selflessness.
It doesn’t even occur to any of them that this MUST be part of their lives for the next few weeks. Is it because they just assume the women are handling it? Or do they truly not care? And, if that is the case, are we running ourselves ragged for them? Or for ourselves?
It’s one thing to truly appreciate the next few weeks and the choices we make as adding essential beauty and warmth to our lives. It’s another thing to exhaust ourselves with mindless activity that no one appreciates or wants and then sit around and complain bitterly about their lack of appreciation afterwards.
Why don’t we just accept – in advance – that, with the exception of the very youngest of our loved ones, all the rest of this is really superfluous and a tad self-indulgent? If we did, then we could scale back to just making a special time for the wee ones, and perhaps making a nice meal or two for everyone else.
What if we just stopped? Not the sacred celebrations, of course. Not the family gatherings and suppers.
But all the rest of it. What if we gave our holiday shopping over to ONE trip to the bookstore or gift certificates from the CVS? The other day it occurred to me that I could actually complete my entire holiday shopping at the local drug store.
Do I have the nerve to do it?
If we must, let’s spread the excess into next year. For example, if part of your next six weeks includes organizing or participating in a bonus “civic lesson” for your kids about charity and such, why not put this activity off until after December? Shelters and food banks need help all year long and would appreciate the help even more after everyone else checks them off their list so that they can get back to comfortably forgetting about things like poverty and inequity until we remind them again next November.
I realize I may be preaching to the choir here, because, C2C readers have already figured out that we need a new Midlife World Order, one less fettered with Must’s and Should’s and Ought’s and more filled with Peace and Love and Enough.
Let’s help our sisters get there, too. What ideas do you have for scaling back this year? What commitment to fewer commitments are you willing to make?
How can you have More Thanks and Less Giving in your life today – at least the kind of giving that involves opening your own artery and bleeding out all your joy and energy and such? How can we make our holidays look more like the “after picture” in How the Grinch Stole Christmas when all the Who’s in Whoville, with no Bamboozles and Roast Beast still gathered and sang with joy and celebration and contentment in their hearts? As a village, they were the Spirit of Forgiveness, too, as they welcomed the Grinch back to the supper table. And as a result of their demonstration of love and joy, they were able to transform even his most penurious of hearts.
That’s the Holiday Spirit I hope to keep at the center of my Calendar Control these next few weeks.
Photo: Flickr, Martha_Chappa95