I should start by admitting that I’m not a huge fan of Thanksgiving. It’s a fine holiday, but generally I see it as a speed bump, a hurdle to jump over on the mad dash towards my favorite holiday: Christmas. Yes, I am that awful person pushing the last trick or treater off of my porch on Oct. 31 with one hand while lighting my Balsam-and-Fir-scented Yankee Candle with the other. I’m not proud of my season pushing, but at least I own it.
As you can imagine, my slight indifference toward Turkey Day doesn’t exactly help with my role as the host location for the holiday every year. We are fortunate enough to have purchased a house that is the geographical center for all of our family members, which means that we get to host pretty much every holiday and gathering Hallmark has created. It’s a lot of work.
The first year in the new house, I found a local place that cooked and delivered the entire Thanksgiving dinner to my door so I could spend more time asking the husband why we never have enough chairs, the kid to turn down the TV because we need to act like it’s a special occasion, and swatting the cat away from the open fireplace—so festive.
(Side bar: a few years ago, we took a break from hosting and went to Disney World for Thanksgiving. I also thought Disney would be “quiet” at that time since no one would be so awful as to skip such a sacred holiday tradition. We almost didn’t get into the park because it had reached maximum occupancy. Heathens.)
But I still spent a lot of time in the kitchen trying to coordinate eight things reaching the same temperature simultaneously, which is, I’m guessing, the same synchronicity involved in landing on an asteroid or achieving cold fusion. I didn’t get to spend a ton of time with my family, enjoying trips down memory lane—like the Thanksgiving when only one burner on my mom’s stove was working and our family of six had 13 more guests coming. We naively asked if she wanted to “watch the Macy’s parade for a few minutes,” and had never heard such colorful language used in reference to a Snoopy Float in return.
As the years went by and we all got a little older, we innovated. We moved the celebration away from the actual Thursday to the Sunday before to avoid nightmarish traffic snarls. I also started to notice that people just weren’t eating as much as they used to. I would be left with mountains of mashed potatoes, oceans of squash, and hundreds of tiny round onions—but suspiciously, never any turkey or stuffing. At the end of the day, the guests would ask to take home turkey, stuffing, and hey, if I had any lying around, some sliced white bread, a little mayo, and some cranberry sauce. On second thought, actually, it might just be easier if you just assembled the whole sandwich here and wrapped it up.
And that’s when I realized that going by the “script” for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner wasn’t really working for our very untraditional family. They liked the leftovers better than the elaborate meal that gave birth to them, and the ease of making turkey sandwiches meant we could spend a lot more time enjoying each other.
Turkey sandwiches became our holiday tradition. Our daughter Lila acts as the waitress for the day, walking around with a pad of paper and pencil and taking people’s orders for either cold or hot open-faced turkey sandwiches. The atmosphere is relaxed and easy, food isn't wasted, and time is preserved and relished. The cat is also slightly less singed.
Sometimes I worry that Lila won’t have memories of a traditional Rockwellian, reruns of Full House-style Thanksgiving dinner. But when I think back on my holidays as a kid. It’s always the unexpected, unplanned, slightly unhinged things that stand out, rather than the rare moments of smooth perfection.