For the last couple of weeks, everyone I’ve engaged in simple, small talk with has asked me one question: “Are you looking forward to Thanksgiving Day?” I just give them a shrug and a tilt of the head, thinking, I’m looking forward to the days off, but I really couldn’t give a crap about actual Thanksgiving traditions. Yeah, I know it’s the time of year when I’m supposed to reflect on how thankful I am, but really, how many people actually do that? Not only that, but I’m not a big fan of Thanksgiving foods, and as a child of divorce, I have to eat two dinners worth of it every year. So given the choice, I’d sit at home watching a reality TV marathon instead of celebrating Thanksgiving Day. I’ll keep my days off, though.As the story goes, the pilgrims were starving after coming to a new land without proper preparation, and the nameless Indians (ahem, Native Americans) saved them by bringing food and teaching them to farm the land. And as a result, Americans re-create this feast every year to pay homage to the pilgrims and the native people who helped them survive, and also to show our gratitude for our fortunate lives. That’s all well and good and everything, but how did gluttony become the main focus?
Let’s face it, everyone eats much more than they should on Thanksgiving, and it’s almost a contest amongst some people I know on who can prepare the most food. I’ve seen many tables, memorialized in photo, with so much food covering them that an inch of the turkey tablecloth is hardly visible. Besides the macaroni and cheese and collard greens, I don’t particularly care for the foods popular at this feast. But I’ve got to grin, bare it, and chow down. I’d much rather order Chinese food and eat it while watching TV, but my dad isn’t trying to hear that.
Speaking of my dad, he and my mom are divorced, and now that I’m too old for them to arrange which holiday, Thanksgiving or Christmas, they get to have me, I’ve had to divide my time between them both on each holidays for the last 12 years. My dad would feel slighted if I didn’t eat Thanksgiving dinner, which, for some reason, begins at 2 p.m. each year, with him, my stepmother, and siblings. And I would feel as if I were abandoning my mom if I didn’t eat with her too, because it’s just she and I on her side of the family in New York.
But besides not particularly enjoying all the food my dad prepares — which includes a duck and a turkey and baked ziti and curried goat — having dinner with that entire side of my family always reminds me how much of an outsider I feel I am. My siblings, having been raised in the same home as my dad, know him so much better than I do, even though I’m his firstborn. The inadequacy I feel has lessened over the years, but the holidays bring back so many memories … make that a lack of memories. Even now, it’s as if my work and accomplishments mean nothing because my dad and stepmother aren’t having to bail me out of some financial pickle I’ve gotten myself into, like they often have to do for my siblings.
(One of my siblings dominates the conversation to the point where he seems like the ringmaster of the circus. All eyes are on him regardless of how mundane his “adventures” are or whether it’s the same old drama he’s always involved in. It’s too bad it’s considered really rude to listen to an iPod while breaking bread with the family because that’s what I’d do through most of the meal if I could.)
It’s not that I don’t love my family and enjoy them most of the time, I just get tired of the phoniness, which feels especially heightened on so-called family holidays like Thanksgiving.
On a less personal note, Thanksgiving Day has come so far from the intended purpose that I think it should be called Stuff-Yourself-Before-You-Stuff-The-Retailers’-Wallet Day. All the hoopla about Black Friday and Cyber Monday is exhausting and annoying. I mean, is it really meaningful for the day when everyone should be thankful for their fortunate lives also starts the holiday shopping season? No. Thanksgiving Day and the days following should be a time of reflection, not planning your shopping strategy.
Even though Thanksgiving isn’t a pleasant day for me, I know I’ll keep taking one for the family. When it comes down to it, I love them more than I love reality shows and Chinese food. I’ll continue my boycott of Black Friday and spend the day doing activities I enjoy or hanging with friends. And most importantly, I’ll reflect privately about how fortunate I am because I know I don’t do that enough.
Do any of you find Thanksgiving — and other so-called family holidays — to be more stressful and unpleasant than joyous?