Anyone who knows me personally knows that (putting it mildly) I can be churlish and snappish and unforgiving. I’m a cranky old broad and don’t see that changing anytime soon. There are certain things that are set in stone for me and I won’t budge on them. I’m willing to discuss the merits (or lack of same) on many issues, but Thanksgiving isn’t one of those issues.
Many years ago I was living an unhappy existence 3000 miles from home – a life of my own choosing, but miserable and sad – with a man who was surly and unhappy and blaming. Thanksgiving of 1979 – I was 23 – found us driving through New Jersey ( I don’t remember why) and we did not celebrate the day at all. I found out later we had an invitation from his sister to come over for dinner, but he decided it was a “pity” invitation and declined to attend on behalf of us both. I was desperate to be part of something, anything, on that day, but was instead very, very alone. I was unable to articulate what I wanted and needed.
The next year I was back at home with my family. I vowed to never not celebrate Thanksgiving again, and to have a place at my table for those who were alone.
The New York Times ran an article about famous chefs and what they would prefer to serve on Thanksgiving other than turkey. They were uniformly scornful of turkey and dressing; they’d rather be eating Korean food or fried fish and pickles. I took a kind of personal offense at it. Sure, you can have whatever you want on that day – Helen Nearing wrote of one Thanksgiving where she rejected the entire day and its meaning, and instead consumed nothing but orange juice -and if that floats your boat, go for it. But that’s anathema for me. Thanksgiving, as I have said before, is my favorite holiday. It’s a day in autumn – my favorite season – devoted to those close to you, to being grateful and thankful, to eating together the same meal you had last year.
You can read the article here. (The NYT limits non-subscribers to 15 articles every 30 days.)
Someone named M. L. Chadwick from Maine commented thusly:
The menu is predictable, so if you can’t bear to eat turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, and/or pumpkin pie for important reasons (dietary prohibitions, mortal loathing), simply explain when invited: “I’m so sorry! I would love to celebrate with you, but that just doesn’t work for me.” Then offer either to host THEM for a meal at your place or a restaurant, or to bring a meal to their home in the near future.
If these are relatives, they’re already well-aware that you loathe what they serve and will be relieved not to hear your gripes yet once again.
If you can’t bear the distress that your declining their invitation would cause them, eat before you go, push the turkey around on your plate, try to forget–just today–how very, very special you are, and ask about your hosts and the other guests with whatever interest you can muster.
And my comment replied to theirs:
Exactly this. Even in my small town I can eat Korean, Ethiopian, or whatever other cuisine I choose any day of the year. It is the ritual, the predictability, the stability of Thanksgiving and its menu that makes it so appealing to me and my family.
As the hostess & chief cook, I know my part is to turn ordinary ingredients – a bland turkey, stale bread, sour cranberries – into delicious foods, replicas of what we had one year before. The guests know their part is to bring side dishes and wine, and stand around in the kitchen yakking and bumping into each other until I shoo them out. The grandparents ask the same old questions and we yell the answers at them because they won’t wear their hearing aids. We discuss who isn’t there and what we’ll do for Christmas and it certainly looks like it might snow, doesn’t it?
After dinner but before it gets dark, we take a walk to the cemetery (just down the road) to visit those sleeping there, who are not physically with us any more but who still sit around the table as surely as any of the living.
The next day people can go to a restaurant and eat Szechuan lamb or kim chee or whatever they want. But on Thanksgiving we gather together in my tiny house, stuff our resentments and petty squabbles into our pockets for a few hours, and eat turkey.