Sometimes I think the older folks in the family are the Mont-Saint-Michel of the holidays.
In case you’re not familiar, Mont-Saint-Michel is an island off the coast of France … at high tide. At low tide, the water recedes sufficiently to make the island part of the coast of France. From a distance, it looks like a model of a medieval castle left out on the sand. Walk to it on some days, swim to it on others.
Some holidays, and especially some Thanksgivings, are like low-tide; everyone leaves town. The sons and daughters, nieces and nephews go to visit with their spouses’ families in faraway places. The local population rushes out like the tide, leaving us high and dry without a sufficient local consumer base to support a gigantic home-cooked meal.
So the few dinosaurs roaming the barren landscape give up and go to some local restaurant brave enough to cater to us leftover misfits. We wait in line for an hour or so and consider that to be sufficient punishment for abandoning the traditional family feast.
We sit at tables where you can barely talk to whoever sits next to you, and you can’t hear anyone else at all, which is a rather practical arrangement for people who never agree about religion in general, or those two other religions in particular, politics and sports. Then we go home, not feeling bad from eating too much, but feeling like the big celebration was a shooting star. We blinked and missed the whole thing.
But on other years, everyone stays home to help protect the family from harmony and tranquility. Otherwise, someone might notice that we get along together better when we’re not together. If that got to be a habit, peace could break out.
So we plunge ahead into the never-ending conflict of getting diverse people on the same page. Do we gather for the noon meal or for the evening? Some people still have to work that day, how can we juggle things to accommodate their schedules? How can we work around the custody agreements of blended families? How can we arrange transportation for relatives who can no longer drive? How do you plan a menu in sufficient quantity when you don’t know how many people are coming? How do you provide for diverse dietary needs and wants when you don’t know who’s coming and who’s not?
What is the key to success? Excess!
Prepare way more food than you can possibly eat. Take half of it back home with you and try to finish it over the following days. Of course, since you just gorged on it, the food doesn’t taste that great anymore, and it’s rapidly deteriorating in the Tupperware. The refrigerator is crammed full, but the kitchen cabinets are empty, every possible food container having been spirited away to store sustenance for the body.
Unfortunately, you may feel duty-bound to try to finish off everything because the dinosaurs who came before us implanted this message in our DNA: it’s a sin to waste food. You finally bite the bullet when you get tired of biting the leftover turkey leg and throw out the food you slaved over a few days earlier.
So I have to say, I’m a low-tide kind of guy. I’m the Charlie Brown of holidays: I love my family, it’s individual relatives that I can’t stand (he said, playfully and hoping they will all be out of town when this article is published).
So this Thanksgiving, I think I will feel a little more thankful if the day is a little less densely populated. If it is not so much like a day on a noisy beach on Earth and more like some time at the Sea of Tranquility on the moon. If it feels like a quiet walk on the shore where someone left a toy castle on the sand.
(I wrote this just after last Thanksgiving and saved it for this year. And now the pandemic and social distancing have made my ideal Thanksgiving an unfortunate reality. Be careful what you ask for!)