This year, I’ve been thinking a bit more about why that is. Why have I set up an Iron Curtain between the Holy Days and the “holidays”? Is it because this season falls so far from the Norman Rockwell days of my childhood? I don’t expect to find an answer this year, but I’m beginning to reframe the question.
I come from a family with many aunts and uncles. My father was the youngest of 8, so I have cousins spread out over about four decades – from those my father’s age to cousins a few years younger than I. In the past few months, one of my Fox cousins has set up an e-mail listserv for The Cousins. This month, one of them asked what Thanksgiving traditions we have retained, what we have added, and what we miss of the very close extended family gatherings with which we were raised.
As far as I know, none of my cousins know about my blog, so I think I can safely share this thoughtful reflection, which my sister offered. My sister speaks my heart. She wrote:
Yes, I struggle with that. My sister is courageous and gracious in intentionally trying to extend hospitality to others. Me, I just try to ignore the day. I decline invitations. For the past few years, I have “played ostrich” on Thanksgiving, trying to have an “ordinary” meal and watching football. That’s hard to do in the U.S., where the pull to Thanksgiving as a secular holiday is almost impossible to resist.
Hmmmm .... Thanksgiving gatherings. In my mind, all gatherings are compared to those at Grandmother's house. Uncles at first table, others scattered in the two living rooms, we younger ones […] in the kitchen (I actually was disappointed when we "graduated" to the living room. To me, it was only because the group/gathering got smaller.), Aunts at "Second table" in the dining room. Unlike some of my more feminist cousins, I didn't see it as a degradation; I saw that they got to sit and visit at the table, that it was a more European meal for them than for my uncles who ate, then moved outside to make room. I noticed that when I "graduated" to the front room, the uncles and aunts were together at the dining room table. I so deeply envy the sense of community they seemed to have. They talked town, politics, social issues; they seemed to disagree some, but still liked and respected one another.
That transition of who-was-where leads me into what I do for Thanksgiving gatherings now. This is very sad for me. Ours is a blended family (divorce, step parents, etc.), which means the gatherings are smaller because children have other commitments. I hate that. Somehow I feel like I'm letting my child down because I can't re-create the great experiences I had at Grandmother's, can't re-create that sense of large family community. They call us nuclear families, but it seems beyond that to isolationist.
I've supplemented my family by inviting friends/co-workers who might be alone or a very small group. Especially single parents who don't have their children, or who would only have their children seem happy for the inclusion. Vic and I have been married for 5 years, and I still don't feel at home when we do Thanksgiving at his family's house.
I don't want to be morose, but does anyone else struggle with that?
I would welcome others of you to talk about how you try to cope with the Thanksgiving tradition if you’re single without family nearby. I do observe it as a day of thanks. I try to be mindful of the blessings in my life. But I don’t find the American tradition quite meshes with my attempt to be mindful of the blessings in my life.
God knows, I love the traditional Thanksgiving dinner!! I loves me some turkey and dressing and giblet gravy and sweet potatoes and scalloped corn and cranberry jelly and yeast rolls (and even the Johnny-come-lately green bean casserole) and pecan pie. But, the older I get, the more I want something else beyond the yummy meal. And I am mindful of the years when I was flat broke and literally had to depend on the kindness of others. Whenever I sit down to a sumptuous meal, the memory of my near-homelessness haunts me.
This year, I’m going to try something different. I’ll post about that next.