Making Meaning

Despite my love of cooking and eating, I have never been a big fan of Thanksgiving. It feels like fast gluttony, and I have taken to thinking of it as little more than a speed bump on the road to Christmas. 

That said, the Louisiana celebrant in me hates the thought of a wasted holiday (which is one reason I go gangbusters making pies!). I am also assertively in gratitude's corner and like to take and make opportunities to express thanks. Those two things can gleefully go hand in hand, and so, for the past couple years, I have worked hard to reframe what Thanksgiving means to me and my family as well as the ways in which we celebrate.

Last year, I was lucky enough to spend Thanksgiving as an expat in Italy. I'd gone to meet my new nephew and help my sister and brother-in-law in any ways I could. Because TG is only a US holiday, my sister has crafted an American-Italian version of her own, and I dare say last year's celebration was one of the happiest I've ever spent.

Yes, there was a beautiful new baby to love and be thankful for, and yes, Italy is pretty magical anytime, but there was something marvelous about that Thanksgiving. Something unique. And I think it was that celebrating wasn't an assumption or an expectation but the very purposeful taking of time to come together and share a meal. 

In essence, that's what Thanksgiving here is and should be. But because of the manic preparation, travel challenges many face, and underlying feelings of obligation and materialism (Black Friday!) that I attribute both to crowd think and marketing, I have generally closed Turkey Day with a sense of sad underwhelm and emptiness. As if it were a wave that rushed our shores and quickly left, leaving nothing but stuffed, exhausted people and emptying wallets in its wake.

Surely there's more to this day of thanks, isn't there? Or couldn't there be?

Last year, my sister and I strolled the baby to the Mercato Centrale where we had fresh mozzarella and wine before picking up the turkey. You have to order turkeys in advance there because literally, the turkeys must be found. It's not like there are turkey farms with birds just lining up to give themselves to your meal. No, you call ahead and a guy goes to a farm that does have turkeys but they're wild and he shoots one and there's your dinner. 

Italians cook turkey breast and cutlets but the whole-bird thing is rather a novelty. And I am telling y'all, I have NEVER had a more delicious turkey than we ate last year. Lawd a mercy that was a flavorful beast.

My sister's Italian family came over for the meal. Prosecco corks popped, the baby was passed around and cooed over, someone accidentally turned the oven off, so we cobbled together an appetizer round of leftover farro and beet salad I'd made and turned the oven back on. It was utterly relaxed and happy. 

There were no expectations either, and I do believe that was an enormous part of what made it so great. Expectations are often a bust. Have you ever read a movie review that is just off its head with praise or disdain for a film and then you go see it and realize that it could never live up to or disentangle itself from the expectations of it you had going in? That right there is why I have completely stopped reading movie reviews until AFTER I've seen the films. 

Expectations set the bar in a biased place, which likely means that your experience will be either disappointing or wonderfully surprising. Who needs it?!

I also believe that while it’s always lovely to spend time with and thank family (what is more darling than watching little cousins reunite and play for hours?!), it’s also important and meaningful to connect more deeply with our communities. How can we give thanks to and help friends? Strangers? The needy? 

Within those communities is likely more diversity of experience than many of us know: socio-economics, education, heritages, struggles, loss. Things that are celebrated but also things that sometimes rest or are hidden under the surfaces. I always feel that the riches lie beneath.

An awareness of the many shades of gray in both our own families and our communities has such potential to lead to greater appreciation and with it, respect. For all we are blessed with and for what too many do without. 

This is why the annual Turkey Trot For Hunger, organized by the excellent group, So Others Might Eat, is my little crew’s favorite Thanksgiving tradition. Many hands make light work, the adage goes. This is one way we can offer our hands to help lift up others in our community. Today’s race, early on this beautiful day, was such a happy, energetic place to be. We loved every minute of it! Tens of thousands of DC-area folks were there, and SOME raised over $630,000 for the hungry and homeless here. 

I'm thinking a lot of all that right now, as the materialism of Black Friday sweeps in before Thanksgiving's door has even fully closed. I'm thinking of how my boys don't know what it is to struggle, that I'm grateful for that, but that it's a bubble. I hope that by celebrating in additional ways (beyond our family), they see how many others do struggle and are in need and realize concretely that giving thanks also involves giving back. 

I’m feeling not glum but meh about this day. It’s just not my favorite, and that’s ok. Our family traditions are evolving as are we.

In the meantime, CHRISTMAS!!!!!!! AAH!!!!!! Carols, stockings, ornaments, sparkly everything. I love it!