Our Thanksgiving table and I have come a long way together. During my first few years in America, Thanksgiving seemed like a pushy and overblown runner up to Christmas (compared to the mid-October holiday I had grown up with in Canada). When we had very young children, I adopted it for Patrick and the kids’ sakes, experimenting with varying degrees of orthodoxy. At first, I drove myself (and everyone else) crazy trying to turn our table into a Norman Rockwell scene, because I thought that was what was wanted and expected. Then I went the other way, and ordered take-away dinners from Cracker Barrel a couple of years running.
My heart was in the right place, but I was on the outside looking in.
It wasn’t until we moved into our second house, and into these middle years, that Thanksgiving really came home to me. This past weekend was our fourth year hosting in a row, and I genuinely looked forward to it. I told my sister-in-law I feel guilty for keeping her and Patrick’s brother from spending the holiday with her relatives, but I was just being polite in case there was somewhere else they would be rather be. I don’t feel one bit guilty for monopolizing Thanksgiving. ALL UR LEFTOVERS ARE BELONG TO US.
(Some of my long-time readers are saying, “What? You have in-laws? Since when?” Since always. Patrick has an older brother, who has a wife and a college-age son, who live out in the country, commuting to careers in the city. We are crazy about them, but our leisure and work orbits don’t often intersect.)
One of the things that makes Thanksgiving more fun for us all is having kids who are old enough to have a sense of tradition, and want to contribute to it. Our oldest always helps his father with his great-grandmother’s dressing recipe, but this year, the younger boys were eager to be involved, too. I had all three of them busy all morning with little jobs: ironing napkins, setting the table, gathering fall foliage from outside.
My eleven year-old was very interested in the table setting, especially when I assigned him to the task of making place cards. There’s a priestly streak that runs through my father’s Irish Catholic heritage into me, and I see it in my middle son’s regard for ceremony. I don’t usually assign seating places, because Patrick (whose blood is 100% lapsed Southern baptist) makes fun of me when I do, but I was expecting to seat nine people around two tables, so I thought I would risk the teasing. Jonah was immediately taken with the idea, and ran with it. I love what he came up with: tent cards welcoming each guest, inscribed on the inside with a sketch of what he imagined their favorite Thanksgiving food might be.
From the kitchen, I watched him scribing each card, chewing his pencil and thinking hard about what each person might be looking most forward to. Then setting the card on the place setting with as much care as if he were the chef presenting the cherished dish. Filled and overspilled by bounty. Believing in the possibility of everyone getting their favorite everything. And making a joyful space for it.
Welcome to Thanksgiving, me.