Reclaiming Your Thanksgiving
By Kristin Fast, In-House Wit-Cracker
Writing about holidays or personal holiday traditions is tricky business because there is a greater than average chance you will offend your reader – either by sounding as though you are giving Martha Stewart a run for her money with your just general awesome soups and crafts and vintage decor, or you will offend your reader with your snarky thought slightly tongue-in-cheek holiday tales as told from the bottom of a wine glass… guess in which category I tend to fall?
That being said, when the Succulents asked me to contribute a piece to be published on (American) Thanksgiving, I had to throw caution to the wind because Thanksgiving has gone from being my least favorite to my MOSTEST favorite holiday and, for all of you thawing out 22 pound turkeys and changing the guest room sheets, pull up a chair and listen as I tell you how to Reclaim Your Holiday.
Backstory: when Hugh (husband) and I bought our home back in 1998, it had the strangest little kitchen I had ever seen. It was three small rooms, a kitchen proper, a pantry and a laundry area, all crammed into maybe two hundred square feet. The house was built in 1933 and it was built as a vacation cottage for a family from the Pasadena area of California and they owned, and I suppose vacationed in it, for 30 odd years until they sold it, in the late 60s, to a professor of astronomy and his wife. This couple, who embraced hippie culture, and saddled their offspring with the names Rainbow and Morningstar, did nothing to “modernize” the kitchen that was meant only for light summer fare and not hearty holiday meals.
Anyway, back to Thanksgiving… it isn't the company or the cleaning or the even the turkey that began to take it's toll, but rather, as the children got older, I began to feel that I was wasting precious vacation days running around town in search of harvest colored candles or rare root vegetables. I began to carve “to do” lists of chaos. Obsessing over floral arrangements, outdoor heating while trying to forcibly create meaningful traditions for my family. Days of prep, a full morning and afternoon of cooking, a dinner which never lasted more than a half an hour, and all topped off by a dirty kitchen filled with dirtier dishes; clearly not my idea of a holiday. I wasn't spending time watching the Macy's parade or baking fun turkey cookies or even taking in the newest holiday movie release – I was on the go trying to create something like this:
Because deep in my heart I am an old white granny with a silver soup tureen. I wanted my family and our guests to sit around a beautifully set table and share what we were thankful for… I wanted tears and reunions but what I usually ended up with was this:
Okay, maybe not quite that askew, but it certainly felt along those lines and when the letdown of the holiday started in early November and I began to consider re-upping my Xanax just to survive the holiday, it occurred to me that a big change was in order.
I decided to be among the 2.23 million people who traveled somewhere over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Delighted in my decision making process I then had a myriad of criteria to fulfill: this trip could not involve an airport, could not cost thousands and thousands of dollars and could not be San Diego (Sorry, San Diego, but the scars from the college years run deep). It also had to be a destination which my husband, a man who I will refrain from calling “cheap” on the Internet but will instead go with “frugal”, would happily dip into our marital bank account and not give me the side eye every time I approached an ATM. I found my answer in Catalina Island. 26 miles across the sea and, well, you know the song…
In a word: heaven. Those 26 miles are the difference between schedules and lists and driving around town like a maniac. They are the difference between spending four days with my kids vs. my kids spending four days hanging out with their friends. They are the difference between forcing meaningful time and actually experiencing it.
This year marks our sixth Thanksgiving pilgrimage to Avalon. We travel with two other families, rent homes on the same street and divide up the duties of a relaxed holiday dinner. We have created traditions of Mexican food on Wednesday and movies at the Casino on Friday and the kids (all nine of them!) count on this time away as much as the adults.
It took leaving town for me to find a way to be actually be thankful. To stop and look at my life, my husband, my children, my friends and be shaken by my many many blessings. I had to get off the hamster wheel of attempted perfection to realize that what I have is perfect.
And although I will never get Norman Rockwell, I do get this:
I encourage all of you to take the time to reclaim your holiday season. Be it saying “no” to an annual party you dread, or hand-making all of your gifts, find the thing that will quiet the noise and bring meaning back to what should be a most special time of year.