What’s in a Holiday?

24 Nov

Ask just about any two people about just about any holiday, and you are likely to get two different answers about what the holiday is about and what makes it important. This usually becomes a big deal when someone moves out of their parents’ house or gets married or has a child or the child passes some arbitrary milestone or you meet a new friend who does something slightly different or you become more educated or…well, you just live life. This is certainly the case for just about every holiday, but for me, the worst holiday is Thanksgiving.

There are so many different things that so many different people do for Thanksgiving that to me it seems to be the most random of all holidays. On the surface, the one factor that brings it together for most people is food, and since I love food, it seems crazy that I cannot get into this holiday a little more. And when trying to determine why, I find myself at a loss. As a youngster, I loved it because it is the one holiday (other than Christmas) where you get the most time off of school, but now that carries little weight for me, as I rarely go to school at all these days.

The one thing I really remember about Thanksgiving is…well, I really don’t remember any traditions we had other than eating, and even that didn’t seem to be the same every year. The one constant was we had turkey, as most people do. I am on record as saying that there is a reason that people only eat turkey once a year—it takes them that long to forget how bad it is, so they will again relish the fact that it puts you in a relative coma with the tryptophan. I now realize that some people like it, but I still think overall there is a reason why several different fish, along with beef, pork, and chicken are all more popular meats—they taste better. All I really remember about Thanksgiving was that no matter where we ate (and I seem to remember celebrating at many different places), we ate turkey and some other weird foods after which all the adults fell asleep, and I got to do something that was relatively fun.

As I got older and had a little more say over that relatively fun thing, I began to lobby for football. Oddly, while I am a sports nut, I did not always get my way, and often did something like play cards with my sister, which, while fun, is hardly an earth-shattering event that necessitates a lot of schedule re-arranging to duplicate these awesome memories. So, as I got a little older and went to college, I never did anything especially great for Thanksgiving. For example, I spent one weekend with the only other six people on campus and we rented about 20 movies from Blockbuster (back when Blockbuster had physical stores, kids) and watched a bunch of them while relishing the fact that we had no homework. As fun as I had that weekend, I don’t believe I spent a collective five hours with those six kids during the rest of my tenure at college. They were fine people, but as you can see, Thanksgiving wasn’t something that made my calendar stand on its toes. I just did whatever flowed easily.

As I got a little older and spent less time at my parents’ house (so I could spend more time with Kelly), I rounded this holiday into just an excuse to watch more football. And since I felt no specific attachment to turkey, I claimed a new meat for me and my new bride—steak. This is where the holiday started to take a turn (for the worse, in my mind). My mother, who is one of the most thorough people you could ever meet was astoundingly good at making the mundane seem extraordinary (I’m sure I’ll write more on this later, but this could be why this holiday that is extraordinary to everyone else didn’t seem so to me). She began to talk about how extraordinary Thanksgiving was in what I thought was a reasonable ploy to get her son, who was never around anymore, to come around at a time when everyone was off work. To me, as long as there was football and steak, I didn’t care. The only problem is that my wife has this same skill, and she began to talk about how much she missed the food of her youth, and she promises me that her family will cook me a steak every year I go to their place.

As you can hopefully see, this leaves me with two seemingly tantalizing opportunities for a holiday that now seems like it is more work than it ever was fun. So I put my foot down and say that we will only celebrate Thanksgiving at our house. Others can come and eat steak with us, but it will be at our place. Well, those of you who are adults know that that plan of mine couldn’t last very long, when I have my wife and her family pulling me one way and my parents wanting me to go another way. At the end of the day, I now just want this holiday to be over with, so I can move on to my regular life that I like so much. I was able to dodge my way through this minefield (I think) until we began having children. Now, each choice, every year becomes the beginning of a tradition that will now mold they way each child approaches their future, including their potential marriage when dealing with Thanksgiving. So, I feel forced to do something, and so usually this holiday makes a group of people frustrated, foremost of which is me.

However the most unfortunate thing is I now see my children sharing in this predicament. They seem to not be fond of “Thanksgiving food” mostly including turkey. And as much as I attempt to support whatever we are doing, they are sitting there saying, “Dad, if you get a steak, why do we have to eat this slop?” I have no good answer to this conundrum, and therefore I empathize greatly with the fact that my children are miserable. On the bright side, they enjoy the time with family, but then again so did I as a child and so do they every other time they see them. While they like family, there really isn’t anything particularly special about seeing them while eating bad food. They just aren’t building the types of memories that will make this holiday a stalwart to them. They aren’t unified with the rest of our culture on the one thing on which everyone else is seemingly unified—food.

So this leads me to have to make a decision. First, I need to determine what are the elements of Thanksgiving that I think are important? Second, how do I impart them to my children? Third, how do I de-emphasize the stuff I don’t care about? Fourth, how do I break the cycle so that the spouses of my children can have a fighting chance of enjoying Thanksgiving? And the reality is I don’t have a single answer and I’m out of words. Thanks for reading!

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3 Responses to “What’s in a Holiday?”

  1. BG November 25, 2011 at 3:12 pm #

    I have answers to your questions:1. Spending time with family is right up there at the top as the most important reason for Thanksgiving. We don't all live under the same roof anymore, so it was nice having the college kids home. We prepared food, had friends over, ate great food (I love Thanksgiving food, so I'm fortunate), played football, watched football, and watched movies. It was great!2. Give your kids memories of good times. "I remember when dad laughed…", is much better than, "I remember dad always grumbling about turkey…" 3. Don't try too hard. Have fun. Just remember there are 364 other days in the year without Thanksgiving. 4. Just snap out of it.

  2. Anonymous November 26, 2011 at 4:54 am #

    Matt, I am saddened that someone who claims ot be a patriotic American and a Christian cannot talk about Thanksgiving in any other terms than food (good or bad) and wasting time with family or friends. Recommended reading – this note Jacob posted yesterday.

  3. Jenni December 30, 2011 at 4:56 am #

    You seriously need some West family traditions.

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