On Hating Thanksgiving and Knowing That That’s Wrong – UPDATED

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

Why must the food touch?

About Elizabeth Scalia
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  • http://jscafenette.com Manny

    LOL, as an Italian-American I can relate. Yes, there is way too much food and you’re right very little open statements of thankfulness. I think as long as we’re eating and enjoying the wine and jovial, it’s understood that we’re thankful. But I’m not sure the lack of thankfulness is idiosyncratic to Italian families. It might just be defining thankfulness down across the entire culture. Or it might be specific to particular families like mine or yours. My mother really does kill herself with all the work, and at 79 years old I worry about her overdoing it. But she insists and no matter how I tell her it’s not necessary she continues to exist. By the way, we’ve never had pasta at Thanksgiving. I can’t even conceptualize it. ;)

  • http://jscafenette.com Manny

    Oops, typo. I mean “continues to insist.” I do not mean “continues to exist.” LOL, some typos are too funny.

  • Mary

    This was so funny. I can sort of picture it having been in Italian homes during a holiday. So much food and drama! I remember people falling asleep on the couch after dinner after consuming all those carbohydrates and wine! I love Thanksgiving. I have very fond memories of my mother (who is now deceased) making the turkey and the stuffing and everything else that went with it and we sat around watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade while the turkey cooked. With everything you have going on it sounds a bit overwhelming and when that happens it takes all the fun out of it when you’re stressed and exhausted. Could you suggest everyone bring a dish. Thanksgiving is an enormous holiday to prepare for. Frankly, I think everyone is entitled to enjoy the day and especially the ones who host it. Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Peggy m

    Boy, did this ring bells for me. My sister and I admitted to each other that we also hate Thanksgiving. In our cases, it IS because of all the work it entails. We’ve been working at it since age 12 or so and are sick of the cleaning, shopping, cooking and cleaning up to say nothing of the exciting emotional landmines that have cropped up in the last decade or so. I am filled with self-pity! I do it for my mother, though, because I love her.

  • Gia

    Be thankful you have the option of being with family on Thanksgiving. I’m single, my family lives across the country, I can’t afford to go, and my friends are all off with their own families on Thanksgiving. Looks like I’ll be on my own.

  • dry valleys

    Happy Thanksgiving to all those observing it (I’m not, and never have, obviously).

    I never quite grasped how people in America manage to have one major festival and then Christmas a month later. Doesn’t it take ages to get your financial house back in order, eat all the food that was never quite used on the day, etc? And having thought of the perfect gift for everyone, you have to do it again!

    I love Christmas because for obvious reasons we need cheer in midwinter, and my work is much busier in the runup to the day, so from the 25th of December I can look forward to having far more time and money than is usual.

    It appears from this and many other statements that you are (like me) a naturally introverted person. Of course it is good to be social, but you need to rest between heavy engagements with other people, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I remember suggesting this a while back and you said you had heard of it but had never got round to it.


  • Laurie

    I can see and understand how it can be. My husband, two daughters and I celebrate without inviting the relatives and going to their homes to celebrate during the holiday season. It doesn’t mean we don’t love them any less. Matter of fact, the in-laws and the family on my side do not celebrate the holidays and special occasions big. Low key and quiet is our preference. To an extent, it helps being a trauma/ER doc in that my schedule or being on call can be unpredictable at times.

  • Victor

    (((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!”). )))

    These loving Italian family relatives don’t really mean to insult ya! “IT” is just their way of showing how much they love to be around ya and of course, you’ll need to relearn this every year! :)


  • http://www.rcareaga.com/dieboldvar/adworks.htm Rand Careaga

    “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 am put in mind of an episode from the mid-nineties, when my brother and his wife took me to a very large Thanksgiving gathering in California’s Sierra foothills. Our hosts’ home was on a hilltop surrounded by scores of acres of their vineyard. At one point in the afternoon I couldn’t help noticing that while the women of the party were, without exception, indoors preparing the feast, the men of the party were, again without exception, out on the deck surrounding the villa, variously drinking wine or other adult beverages and smoking cigars. This struck me as an agreeable division of functions, and I shared this observation with my brother, who beamed. “We’ll make a Republican out of you yet!” he exclaimed. “*This* is what we mean when we talk about family values.”

  • http://www.rcareaga.com/dieboldvar/adworks.htm Rand Careaga

    Further to Thanksgiving, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll’s defense of the holiday from 1996:


  • suburbanbanshee

    Re: dry valleys –

    1. Thanksgiving isn’t a gift festival. It’s an eating/end of harvest festival. Yes, that’s how long it takes to get to the end of harvest in the US.

    2. Depends on how many people eat lunch/dinner/supper and take food home, and how much food you planned. You can be eating leftovers for weeks, or only for a couple of days.

    3. Thanksgiving doesn’t involve any gift-giving, unless somebody’s birthday happens to coincide. Rather, we celebrate God’s gifts to us.

  • calahalexander

    This is so funny. My dirty little secret is that I hate Thanksgiving (and Christmas, for that matter) when I have to do it in TX with both big families. When it’s just me cooking for my husband, kids and a couple orphaned college students, I love it. I suppose that’s the control-freak in me, because I get to do it all my way, the house doesn’t get torn to shambles while I’m cooking, I don’t have to compromise on side dishes or settle for lame stuffing with no sausage in it, and if someone even says the word “football” they immediately die via the fireballs shooting out of my eyes. I’m the same way with family…I adore them, miss them fiercely, but am so incredibly exhausted by getting together with ALL of them at the SAME time that I end up dreading it for weeks and having to watch substantial amounts of television to recover. I’ve sometimes wondered if I should try to look seriously into the teachings of St. Benedict, for the very reason that you cite…I have trouble with hospitality. I especially resent “surprise” visitors who interrupt my daily routine.

    (Sorry for the ramble. I loved this post, is what I’m trying to say.)

    [Oh, Calah, this was refreshing: "the house doesn't get torn to shambles while I'm cooking, I don't have to compromise on side dishes or settle for lame stuffing with no sausage in it..." WHAT IS IT WITH PEOPLE WHO DON'T PUT SAUSAGE IN STUFFING? Such a wasted opportunity! -admin]

  • Ellen

    We used to do this, simply because my mother insisted on it. When she became ill and had to go to a nursing home, my sisters and I cut way back. It’s still a lot of food, but nothing like it used to be.

    I love Thanksgiving since it’s just food and family and no shopping. I am becoming a real anti-consumer.

  • Roz Smith

    I had to laugh about the ‘is this how the Germans do it’. One of my last Thanksgivings with my mother at her request I recreated what her German mother made when she was a child. My grandmother would always tell her children “We will have a nice fat goose for Thanksgiving. Those turkeys are far too dry.” The fact was my widowed grandmother couldn’t afford turkey. Many urban families still kept backyard poultry for eggs and meat. Keeping a couple of geese was popular because a goose is as effective as a Rottweiler for keeping unwanted visitors at bay – and geese are tasty, too. This meant in the fall geese were widely available in her neighborhood while turkeys, which required far more space to raise, were a luxury food. Their Thanksgiving goose would be stuffed with red cabbage with potato dumplings on the side and the goose grease carefully saved to fry potatoes in for months afterwards.

    Today only the rich can afford a goose! When I finally located one it was $6/lb for a 10 lb bird that barely feed six when cooked because much of the weight was bone and fat. The same store actually gave 14 lbs turkeys away as a promotion! I do have to admit, however, that potatoes fried in goose fat are spectacular.

  • dry valleys

    Thanks for telling me! :) And my reference to leftover food was because, in this case, there seems to have been a lot of it.

    I can’t imagine there being a food that no one at all likes. Though it’s funny, in any given box of chocolates that is shared, there always seems to be one sort that no one likes and is either left or begrudgingly eaten at the end.

  • Roz Smith

    Re: Leftovers. My neighbors invite several people from their church who live alone and who do not cook for themselves. Leftovers are parceled out to give these people several balanced meals to take home.

  • Peggy m

    Dry valleys,
    We could probably supply you with endless recipes for leftover turkey. If you want. My mother and aunt have found a deli in Maryland that sells “Dressing Sandwiches”. That is essentially a bread sandwich. It is delicious and rarely found out in the wild (as it were).

  • Margaret Rose Realy

    Too funny! But you have me wondering…why did my confessor suggest I become a Carmelite?

  • Marion

    Well, the obvious solution is not to fix a turkey, just finish with pasta and call it enough. :) There really is no use to overdoing it by fixing all this food. You could always do a small Turkey breast for yourself on Friday or Saturday or fix Turkey meatballs with the pasta.

    [I've played with the idea of somehow shaping a giant gnocchi into a turkey...admin]

  • Win Nelson

    Elizabeth and Roz, I laughed at the question “Is this how the Germans do it?” I know a lot of German women. Those to whom I am related would laugh and tell the complainer that the next year, it’s their turn to do the cooking.

  • LisaB

    Elizabeth, I’m so sorry to hear that Thanksgiving is difficult for you, I love Thanksgiving. A day set aside to simply give thanks and enjoy the love of family. Christmas is my difficult holiday because of the materialism which is infused throughout our culture and my husband’s family doesn’t help my angst in that regard. I pray you find peace this Thanksgiving, perhaps sharing your family with some singles would help. When my husband was active duty we often hosted singles and it was a lot of fun, especially with the various foods they’d bring from the different regions of the U.S.

    P.S. Twenty five years of marriage and apples & raisins in the stuffing is a must!

  • Adam

    There’s an ironic juxtaposition between your one article about a day for giving thanks for the blessings we have, and the other about wanting to hike the tax rate up to 91%–demanding the stuff that others have. I don’t know if you did that intentionally or not, but it’s amusing.

    Anyway, I hope you enjoy Thanksgiving, however it goes for you. Maybe try to think of Thanksgiving dinner as the Mass in miniature–you gather with your community, break bread, and give thanks at both. Clearly, the Mass far transcends our November tradition, but surely they have elements in common that you can find joy in!

  • Alex

    I freely admit not knowing how this works but is there not some way to reduce the practical stress which might help you have time for a more spiritual approach to thanksgiving. Disposable plates? Assigning different dishes to different people? Less pasta rather than a blanket ban? Some kind of buffet (I realise that was probably heresy…): others might have better ideas. But in this way you could focus on the Lord Jesus in your guests (I am not a Benedictine so I can’t comment on that either, but this is what my spirituality says about hospitality). Or just wait…in the fourth generation our Italianess only comes out in encouraging people to eat more!

  • Susan

    I imagine we all have holidays we like and dislike. Thanksgiving is one of my loved holidays precisely because all I have to think about is being thankful, and I like to remember the Pilgrim/Indian history. And, the other thing I only have to think about is food, not gifts. I am only responsible for my bit part as all the in-laws and now the married nieces and nephews and my children contribute. My offerings are usually for the after dinner feast: large raw vegetable tray/with dip, and tortilla chips with salsa. At least I don’t have to peel 30 lbs. of potatoes for mashed potatoes, though maybe more will be needed. We are expecting over 50 this year. Dad is 89, and Mom has no clean up where she is, with the Lord. May you have a perfect Thanksgiving Day with your family, Anchoress.

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  • Aaron T

    When I was a child, my mother made a very big deal about Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. It was a time of plenty, even when we did not have plenty. When we were all busy with school and work, I was a time to regroup and rejoin our family. I have fond memories as a teenager, being oldest male in the house, of being handed the carving utensils to carve the turkey. I hope, as my sons get older, that I can step back from making the meals to teaching them to ultimately share that joy with them. I may have burned out on the commercial aspects of Christmas and Easter, and the shopping on Black Friday, but the celebration, the meal, and stress of family only get better.

  • Lawrence S. Cunningham

    To the lady who is alone: if you are in stiking distance of Notre Dame, come to our house. We will host an African Jesuit, a Vietnamese nun, my wife’s sister up from Florida, a graduate student couple and their two children and any stray student I find on campus. There will be sausage in the stuffing and plenty of wine. Alas, the offspring cannot make it from NYC so there is plenty of room at the table.