18 November 2010


(Photograph copyright 2010, all rights reserved.)

As some of you know, I'm a bit of an advice column addict. I read them, I parody one of them, and I pay attention to what people say, especially when it comes to things that are bothering them in the moment. Having done this for a few years, I have to say that the more people are miserable, terrified, angry, and depressed right now, around Thanksgiving. Don't get me wrong, Christmas is just as bad for a lot of folks, but Thanksgiving seems to bring out the worst in most people.

I get it. I do. I didn't grow up in the best or safest situation, and holidays were awful when I was both a kid and a young adult. NO ONE had a good time. Ever. Not once. There was constant arguing and fighting, foul long car trips, the same people got drunk every year, and it was altogether an experience that left me pretty cold towards all of the holidays.

As I got older, I opted out. For a very long time, the best Christmas I ever had was one where I opted to stay at University, using my bus money to buy myself the groceries to cook what I wanted just for ME. I didn't care about presents, I had no interest in any rituals, and my only decorations were a couple of glitter garlands that were left over in a stationery store on Christmas Eve. I thought that was heaven. Silence on that particular holiday was the best gift I could have asked for. I vowed right then never to get roped in to someone else's drama again, and I've pretty much managed it.

I still see so many letters to advice columnists from people crying in pain over what really is only ONE DAY out of a year. There are fights over the guest list, over the recipes that are to be used, over who has to/gets to host, who has to travel, who hasn't got the money to travel, and the list goes on and on. Thanksgiving -  a day when we are traditionally meant to give thanks for what we have, has become a nightmare for many, many people.

This is the busiest travel week of the entire year in the U.S. It means that people who never fly will be flying. The airports will be crammed with tired, angry people, some of whom haven't got the faintest idea what they're about. They make it miserable for those that either have no choice but to fly or who do it all the time anyway and are irritated themselves as they slog through the nightmare that is an airport on a holiday weekend.

Let's not forget the hundreds of thousands of people who will be driving long distances to Mom's or Grandmom's house. Hundreds will die in accidents caused by snow, ice, storms, drunks, fog, morons that insist on texting at 70mph and so on. All so they can get to an overcrowded house to eat the same (usually dried out) bird with the same people that they have every year since birth.

Why not stay home? Why not start your OWN traditions? Why is it that families of all shapes and sizes have to travel to someone else's party? Why is it somehow seen as "wrong" to stay home and cook for the people that you love and are close to you both personally and geographically? Why do people put such pressure on themselves that they can't enjoy the day even if things go perfectly?

There are a lot of people this year who just don't have the money to travel, or who would be stretching a dollar until it screams just to be at the holiday table. Why should they have to deal with pressure and guilt trips if they can't  go? Let it be.

The letters show that people's personal issues come to the fore on holidays. People that have always fought will continue to fight. There are threats of canceling parties, refusing to attend if someone else is either invited or not invited. Screaming matches seem to be the rule of the day for so many people. One doesn't want to be in the same house with the family drunk/pedophile/jerk/nasty aunt/miserable granny/bunch of smokers/whiner, and so on, and another freaks out at the notion of NOT having those people attend.

I have to say that I simply don't get it. Thanksgiving is meant to be a holiday where people get together who care about each other. The mere fact of DNA is no guarantee of that, as most of us know full well. So why the pressure? My thanksgiving means surrounding myself with people I care about, that want to come to my home. I believe that we should make our families, not put up with people that we hate just because they're "family".

The Boy and I don't want to be responsible for making anyone do anything. We just want to see the people we care about around a table that has a great meal on it (and I haven't cooked a turkey in ages), with good wine and conversation and usually a great deal of silliness. We would never demand that anyone travel huge distances or bring ridiculous amounts of food to my party. If we couldn't manage the food on our own, we wouldn't be having the party in the first place, now would we?

There is no angst over recipes, china, the "right" serving dishes, the "right" table settings, the "right" way to do things in our house. We don't care how our guests dress. There's nothing formal about our home, ever.  People who care about us and who we care about know full well that there are no rules except to have a good time and not worry about anything being "perfect". We provide food, wine, music and a cat that occasionally likes to sit on laps. There's no specific time to arrive or leave. No one has to do dishes - The Boy and I can handle all of that.

We don't always have guests for Thanksgiving. One friend hosts an open house instead of a massive meal, and that's always a fun time. Last year, we were invited to a friend's house, but couldn't make it because The Boy had H1N1 and we were quarantined. It was all right, though. He wasn't desperately ill, so we made a good meal and watched a couple of movies. The year before, the weather was lousy for driving, so we had a gorgeous pork roast and relaxed on our own.

I think that, with all of the misery and angst that goes into holidays right now, we should all step back. If you don't want to see your family for whatever reason, then DON'T. If anyone is going to judge you for it, who cares what they think anyway? If they weren't upset about this, it would be about something else, so let them be as nasty as they want. THEY'RE the ones with the problem, right?

Have a good holiday and relax, everyone. Remember that it's only one day out of an entire year and try not to get involved in drama and agony that will taint relationships for years. We're headed out of the country for a nice long holiday this year. It's going to be great. We'll be virtually unreachable - and we aren't taking computers with us, so no one can e-mail. I suspect it'll go down as one of the best holidays ever, and that's the way I like it.


  1. Unfortunately this simple, rational solution would remove the drama and angst that some people actually feed on.

    I can just imagine the conversation.

    Daughter #1: "Mom, I want to host Thanksgiving this year!"
    Mom: "Ok, honey."
    Daughter #1: "So... That's ok? Well, I don't want your boyfriend there!"
    Mom: "Ok, dear."
    Daughter #1: "You don't mind? It's ok with you?"
    Mom: "Of course. It's your home, you should invite whoever you want. Of course, I'm spending the day with my boyfriend but I'll think of you."
    Daughter #1: "WHAT!? You're choosing him over me??? How can you..."
    Mom: "Goodbye, honey, see you after the holiday."
    Daughter #2: "Hello?"
    Daughter #1: "You'll never believe it! Mom is blowing me off for Thanksgiving! Apparently she'd rather spend it with her boyfriend!"
    Daughter #2: "Well, I'm not surprised. He probably won't get upset halfway through preparing the meal, decide no one loves him, and throw the stuffing in the sink."
    Daughter #1: "Sputter..."
    Daughter #2: "See you later Sis!"
    Daughter #1: "Well, crap..."

  2. Messy, you sho' nuff know what you're talking about. and Robin, NICE.
    It really is that easy.
    I'm not spending T'day with my mother this year, even though she lives four miles away, because
    1) we see her all the time, and she knows we love her;
    2) her sister invited her to the country, and she has time to go in a leisurely, safe fashion (but if we went there, we'd have to rush in the crowds and the dark);
    3) we're invited to our friends closer by, who feel like family to us but not to Mom.
    No fear, no drama, good times.

  3. Some years ago, when my wife and I separated, it became a bit uncomfortable around all the relatives on T-day. Because these were not my most favorite folks anyway, it was easy to not participate in the 'festivities'. I did however miss spending the time with my mother. So she and I started our own tradition of spending the day together. I takie her out to dinner at a restaurant of her choice, where we are not overrun with crying little ones, inundated with the noise of the siblings, kids, grandkids, greatgrandkids, and just get to relax, enjoy a quiet meal and time together, and then pay and leave all the mess behind for others to clean up. My mother appreciates not having to work for her meal and we actually get to enjoy a holiday. A win-win.

  4. Robin - good one. I think I've met that family... Oh Lordy, I think that's MY family! Can you see why I live a five hour plane ride away?

    Cantahamster - Going to someone else's house for any holiday dinner is great. THEY get to do all the cooking and all you have to do is show up with a gift.

    jburd1 - See what I mean about choosing your family? You and your mom get a quiet time alone and actually end the day relaxed. I'll bet she spent a good many years managing the chaos of the big dinner, too. She must be relieved to be out of that.

    On Christmas Eve, The Boy and I go to the movies. It has to be a silly movie that involves either cheesy animation or things blowing up. Then we come home and relax, usually with a cocktail or two. We don't blow the day cooking - we relax at home. By the time we have to leave, we need the walk anyway. There is no calling of relatives until Christmas Day. THEN we cook an amazing dinner. I love it.

  5. Thanksgiving was great this year. Baptism for newest niece was a gong show, Mum shows up to dinner 2 hours late, even though she's bringing Potato's and Veggies. Her husband still smells like the farm. My sisters and my wife get high in the basement and I accidentally get one of my B-i-L's drunk. (not my fault he can't handle an Imperial Pumpkin Stout, right?). My S-i-L shows up and everybody hates her because she left my brother and their baby for two months to 'find herself'. My B-i-L's parents invite themselves over and get to witness all this, and his dad takes my shoes home. So far I'm the only one who can laugh the whole debacle off, hopefully the Christmas at the Wife's family is a little less entertaining (though no guarantees)

  6. Ah the holidays! My favorite time of year, but then again, my parents made the best decision for our family before my brother and I were even born. They cut the extended family off completely, and started over with our little foursome. (It helped that the entire extended family was crazy/dramatastic.)

    Every year, we spent time together, laughed, and remembered how lucky we were to have each other. (We only went to my grandmother's house for Thanksgiving once, and then her husband forbade her to have company on the holidays ever again. Yeah, he was abusive but is now out of the picture.) We keep doing this even though the brother and I are well into adulthood, since we all happen to like each other despite the fact we're family.

    When I see how most miserable people are during the holidays, I feel a small pinch of guilt due to my own dumb luck. But then I realize the only reason we're even marginally well-adjusted is because my parents already took your take on the holidays and what family means Messy. It really does make the most sense when dealing with people whose only thing in common with you is a few shared DNA markers.

  7. Canadian Thanksgiving, right? We skipped it this year, although we usually take the opportunity to have blow-out feasts on both T days.

    After a certain point, there's nothing you can do BUT laugh, right? This sounds like a whole wagon train of fiascos in a row. I think I would have taken the SIL, the baby and your brother (because HE loves her, right?) plus your BIL's parents and headed out to IHOP for a pancake dinner.

    That would mean that you were with the relatively sane group and still had custody of your shoes at the end of the evening. And the food would be warm and not burned/overcooked. Of course, then you have to ask yourself if the rest even would have missed you when you left!

    I can't handle the chaos. That's why I adore my husband's family. If something screws up (like burning the fried oysters or something) it just gets shrugged off with something like, "Oh well. We can just skip that one!" Then all is forgotten. They don't waste time hashing things over and over for years. It's very restful.

    Speaking of which... did you ever get your shoes back? Did you have to pay a ransom? Oh dear. Next time, let someone else be the host. But not your mother. You'd never get to eat!

  8. Corey... it's a sad, sad thing when someone finds it necessary to say something like "...we all happen to like each other despite the fact we're family", don't you think?

    Never feel guilty about having fun. Life is too short to spend it indulging idiots, feeling guilty about anything, or drinking cheap wine. If we can't have some fun now, then when?

  9. Great post, Messy. The holiday is called Thanksgiving, and it's about honoring all the things you are grateful for. If your family of origin is *not* among them, so be it.

  10. Messy, of COURSE you blow off Canadian Thanksgiving! You're AMERICAN now! ;)

    Jburd, it sounds like you've found what works for you, and you're creating memories that will last long after she's gone some day. (Hopefully no time soon, of course.)

    When my kids were small, we'd do either Christmas or TG with extended family. Usually TG, because it was hard for Mommy to wait up for Santa, get up early to see what Santa had brought (though I usually was still up well before the kids!), and drive drive a couple of hours each way to see everyone. Maybe after lunch on Christmas or the next, we'd swing by our parents' homes.

    We'd get up on TG, drive to the home town, spend a couple of hours each with my family, hubby's family, and the kids' paternal relatives, come home late and relax on Friday. IF we went shopping, we waited till the crowds had all left on Friday or till Saturday. We still do that, but adjust plans if the now-grown kids actually get off work and decide to come see us, instead of staying home or visiting their other families.

  11. My family (husband & kids) always preferred chiken teriyaki. Chistmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, National Cauliflower Day, whatever. I finally rebelled and said I was tired not only of cooking it, but of eating it for every feast, and said even a lousy turkey would provide variety. (Also, a variety of leftovers!)

  12. Ok people, could you please explain this little Aussie why on earth American families find reasons to fight, of all days, on a day that's called THANKSGIVING!?! What gives?

    And for that matter, why is it that families think that they should be together,reunite, only on "special" days? They think their love won't show that well unless is displayed on a public holiday?

    Also, is there a book somewhere, that I have no idea of, that says who is part of the family and who is not, and after how much time someone is considered part of it?!? I mean, especially on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas one should always set up an empty space at the table, for those who might drop by or are brought in - that's the whole idea, at least that's how this Aussie understands it

  13. Roo, it's all part of the American mythology that all families are dying to be happy and if they can't actually manage it, THEN THEY'LL GODDAMNED WELL MAKE SURE THE PICTURES LOOK GOOD IF THEY HAVE TO HOLD EVERYONE AT GUNPOINT TO DO IT. See?

    They watch too much television. On TV, ALL families are happy and love each other....deep down. Everything comes out "right" in the end everyone "forgives" each other and the turkey is always perfect. In TVLand, the dog never barfs up half a shoe under the dining room table and has to go to the emergency vet, drunk Uncle Eddy is a harmless guy who smiles vapidly and never drools or pees himself, the snow starts the day before Christmas and magically shovels itself, and Cindy Lou Who always gets the bestest best dolly in the whole wide world without having to pound the bejesus out of little Helga Boo Who to get it.

    In this Land of the Shallow Television Special, watchers actually become convinced that this nonsense is, or should be, real. They truly believe that television is the exemplar of all things Good and Right and that people who don't fall in line with that are Evil and Bad with a side of Ungodly.

    Because of this bizarre phenomenon, there are some people that set themselves us as the arbiters of all that is Good and Right. There's one or two in virtually every family. THEY exercise their TV-given right to dictate what their perfect family looks like and if someone doesn't fall in line, then they will GODDAMNED WELL FORCE THEM TO, AT GUNPOINT IF NECESSARY.

    And therein likes the hellacious, party wrecking nonsense that is a Major Holiday. To maintain the fiction, the Arbiters dictate that everyone who shares their DNA will FUCKING WELL GET TO GRANNY'S HOUSE ON TIME. Upon arrival no one is allowed to say or do anything that will step on the Arbiter's self appointed illusion of perfection. All everyone has to do is bow down to the TVLand mythology and everything will work out in the end.

    Well of course normal people - who are the majority, they just don't yell as loud as the Arbiters - are going to snap under the pressure, if for no other reason than to make things a little more interesting.

    That's when we find out that Cousin Jim is a bank-robbing barn-burning junkie that everyone hates. Granny turns out to be hopelessly senile, forcing her "good" daughter to do all the work, while the others both resent and praise her. The rest of the family all starts howling about real and imagined slights, and bellowing about how "Mommy always loved you best."

    Uncle Eddy, drunk again, will set the house on fire because it was raining and he had to deep-fry the turkey in the garage with the door closed. Aunt Minnie, who has always been known as the "quiet one" will choose that moment to bring all of her pathological loathing to the fore and quietly strangle the entire family as they try to leave the burning house.

    And that's why American Thanksgiving is so fraught.


  14. Messy, I do find it sad that I need to say things like "despite we're family we actually like each other." I always thought my family situation was typical, and that truly dysfunctional families were rare and/or on TV.

    Then I went to college and found out that I had been blessed with sane parents that treated me not only as a person, but a person they liked spending time with. I was baffled for a few years, hearing horror stories from people, let me tell you.

    Then again, I go drinking with my parents and brother every Friday at our favorite pub. Not only does my mother flirt with the bartenders, the owner has taken to calling my parents "Mom and Dad". I figure, hey, I got lucky, I'm going to enjoy these people as much as possible until I can't. :)

  15. I'm divorced with two (now) adult children. While my father was alive, I hauled the kids over to his and his wife's house for Thanksgiving (mom died when I was 22). It was worth dealing with her critizism to spend the holiday with my dad and siblings. Once he died, I'd still take the kids over to be with the family, even though they didn't care for my baking (to be fair, I thought their side dishes were mediocre at best), her daughters would get nasty and my daughter would have to leave the room because of smoking induced asthma.

    One year, daughter said, "Enough! I'm not coming back here!" and we started going to her father's house (my ex-husband). Now we always have a good time. I get special orders for my brown oatmeal rolls and at least three types of pies, while his cooking is really delicious. Of course B-i-L's 'soused' yams (cooked in brown sugar, rum and brandy) are to die for. Best - it's three miles from home, the family is nice (read:nuts) and his wife and I get along great.

    When my son and I have had enough (we're introverts and can't handle crowds for very long), everyone understands our desire to leave. We even spend Christmas Day there, after having spent Christmas Eve at my brother's house.

    I guess family is where you find it.

  16. Auntie Messy, that must be about the funniest and at the same time, the saddest thing I've read in a long time - some Americans sure got kangaroos loose in the top paddock! For this Thanksgiving, I'm giving thanks that "normal" people are the majority! ;^)

    Big smooch for explanation, ducky

    P.S. Anyone know whatever happened with our brave captain Smag this week?

  17. Hi Messy, great Thanksgiving post, and great photo. I love the way that one leaf stands out in the midst to the whitish ones...

    You're so right about T. I had been under the illision that only Christmas was frought with insecurity and hostility. I mean, how can people argue and fight over making and eating yummy food? But I now know otherwise....

    We are going to enjoy ourselve. Family lives so very far away but we have some very good friends coming. We're breaking tradition because we'll celebrate on Friday instead of Thursday to avoid driving in a snow storm...

  18. I also like those black twigs/branches over the whitish pinkish leaves... very interesting composition.

  19. Messy - I got the shoes back this weekend when I used the the BiL's Dad's garage to put the winter rubbers on the car. Only a mildly dramatic weekend this go around, and it was all my fault :)

  20. Peter - Now if you want to have fun with that, the next time you see those folks, put a sticky note on the toe of each shoe that reads "Peter's Shoe".