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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Why Thanksgiving is my Favorite Holiday

I love Thanksgiving.

Of course, there are the obvious reasons- food, wine, family, friends.  And pie.  Let's not forget pie.

I love to cook.  I love to entertain.  I love my family. When I was single, I always had huge parties with my friends.

I love the smell of turkey cooking.  Right now, I'm making broth with the carcass and the house smells fantastic.

I had a friend share with me why he loved Thanksgiving-- of course, I went on and on before he explained why he loved it--- about my love of the food, the party, etc.

Then he explained to me that he came to the US at 12 as a refugee the week before Thanksgiving.  He said he was so overwhelmed with the kindness he was shown- the food, the clothing, the care.  He said it would always be his favorite holiday because it reminded him about how fortunate he was and how much he loved this country and its opportunities.

After listening to people complain seemingly nonstop about seceding and how our country is going to hell, this made me smile.

And I felt a little silly that for me the holiday seemed to be about drinking and eating.

But tonight, I really sat and thought about why I love-  ADORE-- this holiday.  Like my friend, it really does represent more to me.

For some reason, growing up, the holidays always seemed a little stressful.  There never seemed to be enough of something-- what that something was I never really understood.  I think maybe my mother had such high expectations of everything to be like a Norman Rockwell painting that when it didn't (which when does anything ever work out like that?) it felt like a failure to her and then perhaps to the rest of us as well.  The day never seemed to go smoothly.

But then I moved away.  My first Thanksgiving away was spent in Ecuador with other US foreign exchange students.  I was given the task of making the meal-- I had never cooked for that many people, let alone a big meal like this.  The turkey needed PLUCKED for crying out loud.

It turned out great.  We had a fantastic party- just us "kids."  I'm still very  close with some of the people that I shared that day with.

The next Thanksgiving I spent in NYC.  I went to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.  I skated in Rockefeller Center.  My friends opened their homes to me.  It was perfect.

And every year away from home, my Thanksgivings were great.  Not that they were horrible growing up, just a little stressful.  When I moved to Las Vegas, we had a covered dish party every year.  My single friends would hang out all day and we would drink, play games, and simply enjoy the day.

The expectations of perfection were gone.  Every year was a little different.  And while I do plan the meal out- I do a time line, I label the bowls and serving spoons-- my expectations are simple- don't give anyone food poisoning. 

The first year I was married, I asked to cook the turkey.  No one in my new family knew I could cook.  They thought I was some Ivy League stockbroker trying to impress them.  Needless to say, I CAN cook and I have been happy to make almost every Thanksgiving turkey since (I had to skip the year I was pregnant-- which I fought about- then was VERY glad-- I did show up with 14 pies for 12 people, however!).  I love doing it.  LOVE it.

And my sole expectation is still no food poisoning.

Every year something silly happens.  One year we had a grease fire in the oven when I dripped the basting liquid onto the heating element-- but it worked out.  This year, when I took out the turkey to flip it (yes, I flip my turkey-- the first half I cook breast side down, then I flip it so the skin browns-- and it works.  Aside from the first degree burns....), anyhow, I left my oven mitt in the oven.  It has rubber on it.  Nothing like toxic fumes to liven the holidays!  I've forgotten things.  Like putting out the cranberry sauce (that's just wrong...).  That first Thanksgiving I cooked for the Beans involved me nearly severing my finger (that worried everyone-- not that I was hurt, but that dinner was going to suck.  I would like to point out that my late father-in-law kept the knives VERY sharp).

But it's not about the food.  Or the follies.

It really represents to me the time when I decided to be myself.  Not the child that I was, but to simply be me.

I had a choice.  Life could be a series of perpetual disappointments, of woulda, coulda, shouldas.  Or, it could be this amazing adventure of wonder.  Of enjoyment.  Of gratefulness.  Of embracing everything that is right and not obsessing on what is wrong.

It's when I broke the mold in 1989 as I made sure there were no feathers on the turkey and guessing at temperatures in Celsius, and decided that my life was going to be a great, fun story. I learned that I defined myself; I am not defined by other people or my circumstance.  My life would be an adventure shared with fantastic friends.  Not a burden to suffer through with obstacles in my way.

And every 4th Thursday of November I am reminded of that.  Of all the good things in my life, not what is lacking.  Of my own good qualities, not my shortcomings.  That life is wonderful because I choose, and will always choose to see it that way.  I define myself and my life.

And a wonderful, full life I have.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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