“Nobody interesting enjoys Thanksgiving. Especially not in my family.” So says Ijeoma Oluo in the wild Thanksgiving tale of an aunt making out with her boyfriend that you really must read. Too wild aunts and crybaby boyfriends aside, Thanksgiving sucks. Oluo’s is just an extreme example of how much sucking can happen when you’re stuck around a table with people you’re related to for a few hours. Since I am an interesting person, I can’t stand Thanksgiving, and I refuse to believe anyone else can.
What is Thanksgiving anyway? I have trouble believing its purpose is to celebrate all the things we’re grateful for. It’s definitely not for remembering the circumstances surrounding the first Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s so some of us (like my mom) have an excuse to bail out on the “festivities” and get a head start on Black Friday deals? What else could it be? There are no gifts, no atmospheric music, no fireworks, and not even any pastel-painted eggs strategically planted in people’s lawns. Nothing but food and family coming together to annoy one another. Everyone misses everyone until they’re gathered around a table and forced to speak to one another. It soon becomes all too obvious the only thing you have in common is your blood relation. In the case of all those spouses, not even that.
I’ll tell you what happens in our house on Thanksgiving.
We order our meal from some woman who makes people’s holiday meals for them. It arrives in a box. The day before we lie to ourselves, pretending no one will disturb us and our Thanksgiving will be, for the first time ever, “just us”. ” Just us” is my grandfather (Papa, pronounced Paw-Paw), my uncle, his son and my favorite cousin Cameron, my mom, and me. “Just us” is usually joined by my other uncle (there’s some illegitimate child drama going on there so we’ll let that rest), his wife and her three kids. As well as his son, who brings along his wife and their son. We see them so little that we forgot their names last year and my mom and I casually didn’t address them by name. These people don’t include interlopers who “stop by” if not to eat our food, at least to take up limited space.
I like “just us”. Immediate family is familiar and sometimes funny. Extended family is neither. I’m sure they’re cool people, but I don’t know them. I know even less the adolescent children, who aren’t all that related to me, who invade my space, play with my dogs and talk too much. But they’re nothing compared to what the immediate family turns into when they arrive. While my mom and I retreat, my Papa and uncle like to be seen–and heard—as much as possible. They devolve into excited puppies. They have to be part of every conversation, crack every joke and get on all of my nerves. My mom and I are summoned when guests arrive. Somewhere there’s a contract signed in blood that obligates me to show my face and charm family friends with how well I turned out. So I leave reruns of The Real Housewives of Wherever or a Law & Order: SVU marathon to remind everyone of how smart and pretty I am, emphasizing my ability to dress myself and string together coherent sentences.
Our table seats six. Only six. These six seats are reserved for the men and the guests. Oh yeah, the fam loves their gender roles. One Thanksgiving I refused to help bring food to the table because none of our male family members were helping us. They just sat there. Waiting. “Why can’t you do it?” I asked, probably annoying everybody as much as they annoyed me. Shockingly, nothing has changed in the food distribution protocol. But back to the table. I’m not too bothered by not having a spot there. Chances are I could claim one if I really wanted, being the favored granddaughter. My mom, however, doesn’t get the same courtesy and never has. I continue to pass up the opportunity and join her in the kitchen because (say it with me now) Thanksgiving sucks.
After we say grace (which is hilarious because most of my immediate family avoids religion except on holidays and at funerals), my mom and I go into our cave the kitchen to eat. Sometimes Cameron comes with us but it’s a toss-up on if he’ll be pulled into the main seating area. He’s a dude, very tall now and not nearly as surly as I am. He’s super sweet, I’m super surly.
Now that I’m something resembling an adult, my family has accepted that I loathe holiday food and has given up on shoving it down my throat (#blessed). The turkey and the stuffing can take themselves down to purgatory. Now I eat what I want. This Thanksgiving my mom will join me in having a burger and fries.
You’re welcome, turkeys. Sorry, cows.
The burger and the fries is one reason I don’t sit at the table. Not only would it shatter the Thanksgiving illusion but it would subject me to the comments of family members who can’t believe I still don’t like our holiday food. No Aunt Jill (I don’t have an aunt Jill), I didn’t like it when I was four or twelve or seventeen. Nothing’s changed, but I kind of like you less.
The conversation on any holiday is complex in how it persists in being aggravating. It’s made even worse by whatever political something is going down. Lucky for us, there’s a presidential election approaching. While I’m confident the whole family will agree Donald Trump is a walking pile of trash, I’ll pass on the commentary all the same.
That’s not all I have to avoid. I graduate college next month so we can’t talk about that or what comes after that because I have no idea. We can’t talk about protests at Mizzou because someone stupid will say something stupid. We can’t talk about my love life because it’s none of their business.
And you know what else we can’t talk about? JLo.
We tried that once, don’t ask me why, and my uncle went on a spiel about how she can’t keep a man. First of all, what? And second of all, when’s the last time your unemployed, over-forty-and-still-living-with-your-father-behind had a date?
So we can’t speak.
During dinner, you’re trapped. In my house, unless you’re fortunate enough to grab a seat on the right end of the table, where the escape route is unobstructed, you are actually trapped. Your bladder can’t suddenly shrink, you can’t “hear” someone calling you. If either of these things “happens”, leaving requires climbing over everyone. They might move for you. Sometimes just crawling on the floor is faster.
After dinner comes more talking and sometimes dessert. Sometimes there’s Apples to Apples, and I’m down for that. The interlopers gradually leave. I’ll help clean then make a beeline for the basement and Olivia Benson, emerging only to say goodbye to everyone, disguising my relief at them finally going home. Later my mom will come to complain about all the rudeness of all the guests we weren’t supposed to have. Last year she was really in her feelings because our uncle brought his entire brood and didn’t contribute to the dinner. “Not even dessert“, my mom said. I don’t believe she’s forgiven him.
Is there anything worse than a holiday, seemingly designed to encourage familial bonding, on which everyone you love conspires to make you hate them? It could be the stress. It’s a lot to ask people to pull it together, make their house presentable, prepare food (or buy food) and be a good host to family that are more like strangers to you. And it’s exhausting. Why do you think I’m in the basement for so much of it? The best part of Thanksgiving is when it’s over, and everyone has collectively decided to chill out. By then it really is “just us”, the house has quieted down, our holiday china has been packed away, and my family will be eating Thanksgiving leftovers for the next two weeks.
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. Tell me about your Thanksgiving plans (are they better or worse than mine?) in the comments below.