Let me just say it and get it over with: I hate Thanksgiving. I don’t mind hosting Easter dinner and I love welcoming the family for Christmas, but I really do hate Thanksgiving, and not just because it falls heavily on the shoulders of women when they have work “outside the home” (it falls heavily on the shoulders of those who do not, as well.)
I don’t mind the sentiment about the day; it’s a good sentiment, and gratitude is a virtue necessary for joy — one cannot have joy, if one is not sufficiently aware of what is good in one’s life, and grateful for it.
I’ve written before about the Benedictine commitment to hospitality, which is an idea I struggle with so much I sometimes wonder if I should have been a Carmelite. No one expects anything out of them but a retired silence.
It’s not that I don’t like people. Generally speaking, I do like people; I think they’re funny, interesting, and mostly well-intended. I just don’t like being around them very much, and increasingly I wish I could communicate with everyone via skype or internet and leave all that physicality behind.
This has nothing to do with love. Whom I love, I love to near-distraction. And I dearly love the people I don’t want to be around. My husband’s family is more “mine” than my own biological siblings ever could be, my nieces and nephews amaze and delight me—and I just don’t understand why I have to get together with them all the time, or why I am having everyone over to celebrate Easter. When my son jokes that our doormat should say “go away,” he’s more right than he realizes.
Hospitality is a substantial part of being a Benedictine, and it is a confusing thing, for me. Once I get the people into my house, I like to serve them good food and wine; I like to laugh with them and share memories, and surprise them with little gifts. Sometimes I’m even sad to see them leave. But until the moment they’ve crossed that threshold, I am negative about the whole endeavor.
And this, I suppose, is the deeper, more hidden reason I am a Benedictine: because the God Who Knows what we need to work on supplies the therapeutic mechanism, in one way or another.
I hate Thanksgiving because I married into a very good, very loving Italian family, where no one wants to play the “let’s say what we’re thankful for” game because it strikes them as vulgar, and besides, they’re too full to think.
For them — and they don’t even watch football — Thanksgiving is just a day for killing yourself, (really killing yourself until the next day you’re weary-unto-bowleggedness) in order to create one meal that no one is going to enjoy, no matter how delicious it is, because after the three kinds of appetizers, (hot and cold) and the salad no one actually wants, they eat lasagna or manicotti and meatballs, and then have no room left for the turkey and trimmings.
The year I declared “NO PASTA” and served them a spinach/eggdrop soup, they sat around the table like it was a funeral. They kept asking me if this was how Germans eat Thanksgiving, and wondering why the soup couldn’t have little macaronis and meatballs in it.
Then the table-clearing — the first round of dishes. You have to bring out nuts and fruit, to amuse those who can bear to remain at the table while the first round of dishes is going on; the other 20 people are milling around the house, making it hot. The ceiling fans go on and the windows get opened and no matter what, they all land in my little kitchen, “helping” me to make plates of food for people to take home (because the pasta was delicious and no one could eat the main course “but the turkey was nice! Moist!”) while also assessing the condition of my 40-year-old kitchen and suggesting how I can make it bigger and more efficient (“you can tile the walls! You need to knock out that wall, expand the whole front of your house four feet, and then tile the walls! It could be beautiful!”).
Then the nuts, the fruit, the unbelievable number of desserts — it’s not dessert unless there are pies, cookies, pastries, rice pudding, a fruit salad and some gloppy-looking cake that only 6 year-old girls will eat, then the coffees/tea.
That’s just a standard Thanksgiving. Quite honestly, I would much rather spend the day working in my parish food kitchen or driving out to the Rockaways and feeding this meal to victims of Sandy, who would probably kill to spend their Thanksgiving among noisy people, in a warm house, and eating too much pasta.
Which means, I suppose, I should stop grousing about my first-world problem and be grateful that this is all I have to complain about: too much of a bounty.
And yeah, now I feel humbled enough to shut up, offer it up and yes, be thankful. I am aware that the problem, mostly, is me.
Rebecca Hamilton has a better attitude.
Tony Rossi: Learning to Love your Mother in Law on Thanksgiving