Stuffed somewhere between the manic candy eating and the pretending to be someone you aren’t of Halloween, and the glitz and glitter of modern day Christmas, is……….Thanksgiving. Or at least it used to be. What happened? Thanksgiving has all but disappeared. I was pondering this recently and wondered….Is Thanksgiving dead? or dying a slow death? or just forgotten?
Can we revive it? Is it worth it? SPOILER ALERT: If you are one who decorates for Christmas the day after Halloween STOP READING NOW. Please don’t send me hate mail, I’m not anti-Christmas for goodness sake.
The answer to the can we revive it question is, Yes! Yes, it can be revived with a little forethought and it is most definitely worth it. In spite of the fact that Thanksgiving is predicated upon a romantic notion of grateful Pilgrims sitting down to an abundant harvest of food and friendship with also grateful Native Americans, a notion that has been disproved over time, families still sit down to eat too much food together, drink beer (I mean come on, what’s Thanksgiving without a drunken Uncle Fred??) and watch football.
When I was young, Thanksgiving was looked forward to with anticipation, the candy from Halloween had long since been eaten, jack-o-lanterns retired to the trash, toilet paper removed from the trees and the rush and excitement of Christmas hadn’t yet started. Although my Grams did have a corner in her closet for those “special” gifts from yard sales she squirreled away through the year. And let’s not forget Green Stamps and Top Value stamps saved and hoarded for gifts that couldn’t be found at yard sales. And she saved 25 cents a week just for Christmas at her bank’s Christmas Club savings program. But this post isn’t about that, how did I lose track of Thanksgiving already??
Oh yes….anticipating Turkey Day. While my Grandfather was alive, that meal was a big deal, preparations began days in advance, the good dishes brought out and washed, the silver polished, table linens starched and ironed. The required paper turkeys with their glorious honeycomb tails, lined the table and the old faded pilgrim salt and pepper shakers were brought out and filled. The family was coming for a day long eat fest. Along with whatever stray person my Gramps dragged in, usually someone he met in line at the hardware store with no place to go. Having no place to go was something he couldn’t abide. So we frequently had strangers at the table, eating and talking with the rest of the odd lot of relatives I saw only once a year.
The day began early for my grandmother, she would often get up at 4 or 5 in the morning to begin preparations. When it was time for the Macy Day parade it was also time for her first break. The sounds of that parade and the soft oohs and ahhs from her still resonate in my mind every Thanksgiving. It was a day of warmth and familial tolerance, if not love. I tolerated my Great Uncles, a rowdy bunch of former coal miners and farmers, veterans of wars and unnamed battles, loud, obnoxious, but adored by my Grams and they, in turn, adored her right back. My Great Aunts (my favorite relatives,) colorful as exotic birds, tugging assorted husbands and boyfriends to the dinner table, everyone laughing and waiting expectantly for the turkey, my Grams’ triumph of early morning rising, stuffing and basting the morning away.
The glorious bird would arrive, carefully carried by Gramps, steaming and golden brown, placed on a large platter, clearly the star of the meal. Grace was said, everyone held hands and bowed their heads, the Uncles eyeing the biscuits, (I always peeked in case they were ready to throw something at me), and then we went around the table, reciting what we were most grateful for before the meal began in earnest.
And what a meal it was. Mashed potatoes ( and no one made them like my Grams), stuffing, turkey gravy, a variety of veggie dishes, something called Waldorf salad, the required Jello with weird additions….Hello orange with shredded carrots and walnuts, I’m looking at you! And the always mystifying can of cranberry “sauce” which never lost its can shape, wasn’t really saucy and was more like molded jello without the benefit of walnuts or shredded carrots. Hot just-from-the oven biscuits and warm home baked bread. Then there were the pies, enough pies to make the sideboard groan. Every person brought pie, every.single.person. There was mincemeat pie (something I wouldn’t eat, I mean what the hell was in that anyway?) pumpkin pie of course, and apple, and sometimes there was a dreamy coconut pie in all its chocolate decadence.
And pudding, Jello chocolate pudding because that was my favorite. But also vanilla…with bananas and something called Cool Whip, although my Uncles preferred Ready Whip because when you pushed the little thingy on top of the can, it sounded like someone farting according to Uncle Buddy. And it could be used as a weapon. There were always threats of “whipping your ass,” at the time, I thought they would be using the ever handy can of Ready Whip as the weapon of choice. But wondered why would anyone use whipping cream to beat someone up??? Ahh, the sweet innocence of youth.
The beverages of the day were always sweet tea and coffee, if it was cold and it usually was….there was hot mulled cider. My Grandparents weren’t drinkers. My Gramps had a beer or two while hanging out with his fishing buddies but we typically didn’t have it in the house…… and wine, when it was brought to family dinners, was always in a large jug. Sophisticated we were. What with our cranberry sauce from a can and our Gallo wine from a glass jug.
One or two of the Uncles always got into heated arguments, the reason long dead, but revived, just in time for food. How does that happen?? For me the day meant stuffing my face, dodging “noogies” from the Uncles, playing outside with my dog and the highlight of the day was watching the Lions and/or the Bears play, sitting in front of the TV with my Gramps. One or two of the Uncles, done arguing, would join us and there were more than a few new arguments over the “Best Ever” in whatever position they were debating.
That part of the day was special, I got to share that time with my Gramps, sitting in his chair, smoking his pipe and laughing at all the antics and telling or retelling his favorite jokes and stories, me usually leaning back on that chair, bringing my bed pillow for comfort. As the day turned to evening and the candles were lit, music playing after the football game, various bodies snoring on the sofa and every available chair, replete with food and warmth, that day became Thanksgiving. I carry it with me still today.
After my Gramps passed, the dinner was still held, but it had lost something besides my Grandfather. My Grams was never the same, and in the subsequent years as more of the family left us, uncles, and aunts died or moved away, there were no more strangers, because helloooo, you never knew what kind of creep might show up, until it became just me and my Grams and my two favorite aunts, Ruby and Vi, along with their husbands. A more sedate day but still filled with love, laughter, warmth, too much food and reminisces.
I learned a lot about my family then, the old stories, the history being repeated around the table while the adults seemed to forget I was there, lost in their memories. The day ending in hugs and a flurry of goodbye kisses and hugs, the house silent once more. It wasn’t a sad day…..just a quieter and smaller version of the earlier dinners. But one thing remains clear in my mind. There was a feeling of thankfulness, of being grateful and content. And then Grams would signal it was time to bring the Christmas boxes down. THEN Christmas began. That’s what I miss most of all.
These days I browse my Instagram feed, look at posts from my many decorating groups on Facebook, and wince when the Christmas trees start appearing the day after Halloween. The last few years I’ve been sick of Christmas decor long before Christmas ever gets here. People are in such a rush to get from one light filled extravaganza to the next that Thanksgiving has become a day to get through so the “real” Christmas season can begin. Propelled by retailers needing to grab our dollars by enticing us with glorious and gaudy Christmas displays and the must have newest generation of phones, tablets, robotic vacuums and telling us we need someone named Alexis to have a good life…… We buy pre-lit faux trees with timers and programmed music. And then we spray our homes with the scent of evergreen in a can or burn scented candles because faux trees have no scent. ??? Does that seem weird to anyone else?
I often wonder, what’s the hurry? I hear and read “Fall is my favorite season,” yet those same people pack up fall as soon as the last jack-o-lantern is kicked to the curb and start putting up trees. WHAT? Fall is still here, people! And can we just set aside ONE day to be grateful for all that we have? For the people, pets and abundance in our lives? For a day of, granted, too much food, but served with a side of affection for family? WHAT IS THE HURRY?
I know many people love Christmas, I love it too. I love anticipating and planning it each year, I have countless magazines devoted to all things Christmas. I make lists. I’ve learned to slow down and enjoy every season, every holiday I have left and I try not to squander one for the sake of another. Fall is a SEASON, Christmas is a holiday. Thanksgiving is a holiday too! There. I’ve said it.
There may be a reason for starting Christmas early…. for military families, it may be a deployment. For some it’s involvement in the Christmas Parade of Homes, or another local tradition, perhaps someone is moving far away….for the rest of us, it’s the holidays as always….or should be.
It’s a bit different, being a blogger. We’re expected to get our holiday tips, tricks and photos out early so that you, my dear friends, can learn new ways to celebrate. I get that. But this year, I’ll be posting some things from last year, so that I can ease into the holiday with joy in my heart.
I’ll be cutting back on social media for a few weeks as we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving with the family we’ve chosen for ourselves. The kids are all scattered with families of their own, and one will be celebrating with us from Heaven. Mr B and I would normally eat a scrumptious, but less stomach challenging meal, followed by football, where we sit comfortably ensconced on the sofa, hurling insults at our heroes when they fumble or drop a pass.
This year we’ll be gathering with friends, some will eat too much, some will drink too much……but we’ll gather together to be grateful we are still here, to offer a moment of silence in remembering those who are no longer with us and THEN we’ll all hurl affectionate insults at one another, much like my uncles used to do, without cans of of Ready Whip for the ass whippings. Why…. we are much more sophisticated than that. We don’t need no stinking cans of ass whip. We just throw intellectual barbs. And drink wine from slim bottles with fancy labels and actual corks, and locally brewed beer with creative names. Yes, we’ve come a long way from Ready Whip and Gallo wine. Cool Whip may still be lurking somewhere….. but there will be no orange Jello with shredded carrots and walnuts. Um…..I might miss that. But there will real cranberry sauce that’s actually sauce and there will be pie. Lots and lots of pie.
Bring Thanksgiving back. Don’t look at it as the day before Christmas starts, drag out your vintage pilgrim salt and pepper shakers, line your table with paper turkeys in all their splendor. Decorate for this day as if it’s important. Because it is.
In today’s world we NEED a day to focus on what’s important, a day to hit pause, to remember and reflect. Christmas can wait. Put down the device, forget Facebook and Instagram (gasp!) for a day and enjoy conversations with the people who are standing or sitting next to you. Hug. Say I love you. SLOW DOWN. Enjoy the season you’re in. You never know when it will be the last season you get to enjoy. Or the last time you get to see the face of someone you love. Savor it. Christmas will come as usual, and there will be time for it. Leave the frantic shopping and the hurrying for a bit.
There’s time. It’s STILL fall y’all
Create your sanctuary. One season……one holiday at a time.