Unless you are one of that small minority of Americans who has a perfect family where you love every single person absolutely, Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that carries stress that can range from paper-cut-irritating to the feeling of standing on a land mine where there is just no right way to handle it without getting your head blown off.
First, there’s where to spend Thanksgiving. If all of your family does not live in the same vicinity, someone has to travel. Stress. And money. And of course the weather always makes this a catastrophe, almost every year for the last ten in fact. (Why has no one proposed moving Thanksgiving to a less horrifying weather-riddled month like August?)
Then once you get there you have to pretend you like everyone in your massive extended family, and, let’s be honest, that’s rarely the case. So you put on that happy face, the one you normally save for the co-worker who likes hearing himself talk, and do your best to avoid those wretched people when it’s finally time to sit down to eat. Here’s hoping you don’t have one of those place card hosts who will take that tiny bit of free will away from you.
For those not spending it with family, there’s the complicated decision of which friends to invite over or to visit. Turning down Thanksgiving invitations is awkward, but do you really want to go bite and smile your way through a serving of Vegan Tofurkey? It may not be as bad as that family function you begged out of using work or finances as an excuse, but it’s likely to be close. Some friends don’t get along, so keep them separated. Then a string of questions that would challenge even Emily Post to provide perfectly polite answers for crop up to make it worse – is it weird to bring that friend who has nowhere else to go? Is it okay to stop by and eat a plate at four different houses to make everyone happy? How short can your visit be without being rude?
Then, who’s doing the cooking? And does everyone else have to bring something? And if so, what? And who doesn’t eat what? With the advent of gluten-free everything, Thanksgiving is now a minefield of what is not suitable for whom, and who will be a complete jerk about it too – because, of course they will.
For those in transitional life periods, an additional series of queries pops up. Do you bring that new person you are dating, making it more serious than you might be ready for? Do you not bring them, and risk insulting them? Do you accept their invitations? Are you ready to meet the potential in-laws? Will your own family behave? Do you have answers for all of those pesky “what are you doing with your life and why aren’t you more successful” questions?
The difficult thing about Thanksgiving is that it’s just a meal, so there’s no inherent activity to distract from the inevitably weird, insulting, probing or challenging conversation topics at whatever gathering you finally decide on. It’s always the person with the most ridiculous opinions who wants to launch into a tirade on religion – I’m an atheist and you’re a moron for not being one, Wicca is my new passion, Jesus save me YESTERDAY! Or Politics – the Tea Party knows exactly how to save this country, Ron Paul had some great points and he didn’t write those newsletters, Hillary Clinton is the ONLY option and you hate gay people if you don’t agree. Or just the state of anything and everything in America. They have a captive audience, and they aren’t afraid to use it, and the rest of us bite our tongues thinking “just get through it, it doesn’t matter anyway” while weighing the pros and cons of verbally ripping them to shreds before the desserts finally arrive.
That barely even covers the day, since there’s the pre-meal and post-meal activities that have to be planned. Watching the parade, or gathering to cook, or watching the game, or throwing the ball in the yard in an epic display of sportsball masculinity. The possibilities, both wonderful and truly horrendous are endless. And finally, when can you leave? Before dessert? After the meal? After the dishes? After the game? There’s that other stop we just have to make to appease some other family member or friend, but when is an appropriate exit without someone being offended???
The stresses associated with having Thanksgiving plans are innumerable, but they are rivaled easily by the stresses of those who do not have plans. Family crises, or fractures or tragedies can make it an exhausting day emotionally even without plans that have to be navigated like a tightrope. For many it is a day that serves as a reminder of who is missing even more than who is present.
So let’s acknowledge, if just for a moment, before Facebook floods with showy “thankful” posts, and Instagram fills with perfectly laid tables of entirely too much food, that Thanksgiving is an extremely weird and difficult day for many people. If you are not one of those people, good for you, truly, so maybe take a moment to reach out to the people you know for whom it is not a perfect day and give them a moment they can be thankful for.
If you are one of those people for whom it is a day that seems like an emotional mountain that is going to take serious effort to climb, if it’s even possible, remember – you are not the only one, and you are not alone. The only suggestion I can give for situations like this where advice provides no comfort is this – do what everyone else will be doing anyway: eat your feelings. I mean, every family every where can’t be wrong on that part.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! (Or, have a wonderful day ignoring everyone and everything in order to do exactly what YOU want to do by yourself!) Whichever seems most appropriate.