My original post below from three years ago needed a preface, particularly in light of the very bewildering, soul-wrenching year we’ve had. As difficult as it was to lose Glenn Fry, Alan Rickman, Prince, Gene Wilder, Doris Roberts, George Kennedy, Harper Lee, Leonard Cohen and sigh…David Bowie, I’m talking about something else – a year of firsts. The first time parents shooed their little ones from the room when the news came on, not to protect them from abject violence, but to shield them from the insidious vulgarity that has seeped into our every day vernacular. The first time ignorance, arrogance, and vitriol got together and had a year long bender (at least in my memory). The first time, in many, many years, an election has been the catalyst for ending friendships and severely straining family bonds. This Thanksgiving will be the first test of how we’re all going to deal with one another and the polarization that lives with us like a house guest who simply won’t leave.
I considered asking my family members to please shelve their political views and come together to simply enjoy one another on Thursday. I sat with that thought for several days while I considered carefully the 25 people who will share our table this Thanksgiving. I wondered who I was trying to protect – my kids? They’re too old to be protected and they’re quite savvy when it comes to their own world view. The family as a whole? Was I trying to protect the family unit? With Facebook, particularly, it’s difficult to have “friendships” (please don’t get me started on that) when you’re treated to a daily glimpse of the inner crevices of a person’s belief system and general inclinations – social, political…grammatical.
As Americans, I think we have a love-hate relationship with the First Amendment. We think we love it, but when it permits behavior that flies in the face of our own belief systems, then we HATE it…punish people who exercise it. We mourned his passing this year, but somehow we conveniently forgot how Muhammad Ali very publicly utilized his first amendment rights in protest of racial inequality and the Vietnam War. And Colin Kaepernick? Dissent, whether you like it or not, is part of what it is to be American, in fact, it’s one of the most American things we get to do. So it got me thinking. Asking people to mind their manners at Thanksgiving is something I already expect and frankly, so does everyone at my table. We are facing an economic, social, racial, religious, and political chasm the likes of which I’ve never experienced in my life time. I don’t think ignoring it is helpful. So I decided to just let it ride this Thanksgiving. It’s not my place to censure anyone and it doesn’t feel right to do so. It might get weird and uncomfortable. It might get heated, but it also might provide a shred of understanding. At least, that’s my hope. And if I’m totally and completely wrong, and my otherwise peace-loving family erupts into a verbal blood-bath, there’s always the full bar.
Read on for my original post below, from Thanksgiving of 2013. If I’ve offended anyone with the picture of Sarah Palin, or the taking to task of the NRA, or the wage disparity between men and women, then I suggest a dirty, dry martini. It’s the closest think I can think of to an olive branch. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
I love the holidays. LOVE them. I know the house will be clean, the silver polished, the stemware shinny, and the food delicious. However, for me to truly enjoy the holidays, I always employ a few time tested strategies because if we’re being honest, the holidays can bring a certain angst with them. Look at it this way. If you have twelve people at your dinner table, you have 144 separate relationships all happening at the same time. People might bring a lot to the table – family politics, unfulfilled expectations, and politics of the other kind. Here’s a few tips to make sure you enjoy your holiday season, no matter what gets thrown at you.
Martini, anyone? Please?
If you’re hosting a big event at your home, like Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, please, please, do the sensible thing and consider the merits of a full bar. You might belong to one of those families who represent every political party on the ballot. Green Party, tree-hugging, bleeding heart Democrat, moderate Democrat, moderate Republican and people who follow the musings of Sarah Palin like a stoner follows the Grateful Dead. Hence the full bar because as my sister Carrie says, “You can always drink ’em pretty.” Not that I’m suggesting a drinking binge. Not really. Well maybe, kinda. It depends on your definition of “pretty.”
Hedge your bets
Have either a distant family member, friend, or total stranger attend your holiday. It’s what Jesus would do. But there’s an ancillary benefit as well. Uncle Floyd, who delights in telling offensive, racially charged jokes will think twice in front of a stranger. I don’t think the holiday table is the right place to discuss the NSA, the NRA or any other political acronym, but in case it happens, hedge your bets with a few guests.
The conversation killer
If tips 1 and 2 have failed, remember that holidays are a time of gratitude and reflection. And patience and kindness. If you are the bleeding heart liberal and someone tells you how affronted they are at the limitations of gun laws, may I suggest my favorite response? Here it is. “Isn’t that something?” It flows really well. Here, let’s run it all together like this:
Uncle Floyd: “I don’t know what the big deal is about women earning 77 cents on the dollar compared to men.”
You: (Take a sip of your martini) “Isn’t that something?” Now turn your head and talk to the person beside you.
It’s a polite way of saying absolutely nothing. Don’t spend time, energy or angst discussing something with someone who doesn’t have the capacity to understand you. Besides, its not your job to enlighten anyone with your own particular brand of wisdom. It’s your job to wear a stretchy waist band so you can eat an obscene amount of food and fall into a tryptophan coma.
If you can deliver this line gracefully, no one will ever know you’ve morphed into the conversational angel of death. Instead, feel gratitude that Uncle Floyd has given you a post-holiday story for your friends. And remember, he finds your views equally objectionable.
Really, what the hell is that?
If you have a family member who must, MUST eat one of those sacrosanct holiday dishes that isn’t on the menu, and you don’t have time to produce it out of thin air, invite them to bring it. I, personally, do not delight in the gushing, burping sound canned cranberry relish makes as it slides in a blubbering mass onto a dish, but hospitality is the order of the day. Toss some mint around it, put it on your prettiest piece of china, and serve it with pride.
One big table
Don’t have a kids table. Really. My children and all my nieces and nephews are chief among my greatest blessings and joys and I bet they’re yours too. Having them part of the conversation will add a dimension and richness to your day. It will also make the adults reconsider that fourth drink and those off-color jokes. No one wants to scare the children.
Why do you always put me next to Uncle Floyd?
Place cards are lovely, formal and traditional, but they will haunt you like heartburn from a bad street taco. If you put your squabbling sisters next to one another, you might hear about it for weeks after. If you separate them, they might take a moment to tell you they’re adults and you didn’t have to interfere. If you put anyone next to a food-hurling toddler, they might assume you’re holding some sort of grudge and now it’s payback time. My husband, kids and I quietly stake out our spots near one another by crossing our silverware over our plates and then it’s a free for all for everyone else.
Thanksgiving at my childhood home included friends and family, one huge table that seated eighteen, and the tradition of expressing our individual thanks prior to the meal. One by one, we would relate those things for which we were most grateful. Our family, our friends, and our freedoms were chief among them. Not much has changed for me except an ever burgeoning family. 36 per side, if you can believe that. And that doesn’t include cousins. Just our siblings and their families.
So whatever comes your way this holidays season, remember what it is you love about the people you are with and embrace them with a loving heart.
As for me, in addition to my husband and kids, I’m grateful for my parents. That hasn’t changed since I was old enough to express my thanks at the Trimm family table. That’s them below. My dad is the brunette.
Happy Holidays everyone!