Are you feeling dull, tired, petulant, and/or simply not altogether thrilled to get on a plane or a train or into a car or bus and head off to see family (even though of course you love those crazy relatives, you really do)? Are you wondering how to make a pie or thaw a turkey or cream some corn and desperately wishing you hadn't agreed to contribute in said way to the "Thanksgiving orphans" dinner of friends who live in an easy-to-get-to nearby locale but are still demanding homemade pie/turkey/corn? Are you sort of rather wishing that instead of this holiday at which we are all supposed to be grateful and appreciative and nice that it was just a normal week you could plod through crankily and sleep in on the weekend, not have to wear a cozy sweater with a turkey on it or make small talk with that neighbor who your parents invited over to share in the pumpkin rolls, why is he eating all the pumpkin rolls!? Are you feeling ... dare we say it ... not so festive?
Look, we understand. It's been a rough month! The election, and all that came before it, was draining, the aftermath exhausting. There was a hurricane, then a nor'easter, in the Northeast. God took away our Twinkies, and then he didn't, and then he did again. And all of a sudden we looked at the calendar and news had slowed to a virtual weird-holiday trickle and we found ourselves still talking about that irony piece in the Sunday Times like we'd landed in some kind of Groundhog Day time warp, an empty can's worth of cranberry sauce slowly circling the drain, mushroom soup upended over some green beans as if it were a real delicacy. Where are we, anyway? What is this world? Are those fried onions?
If you're thinking, Oh, crap, I still have to figure out what I'm doing on Thursday; there's no buying an organic turkey now!, we hear you. Or if you're more like: Help! The New York Times wants to know if I want my meal to be hedonistic or classic and they're sharing stories of Thanksgiving overachievers, but I ate the whole box of dried stuffing the other night when I came home drunk and that was all I'd bought in preparation for the holiday and probably I am truly hopeless, we hear you. Maybe you're thrilled for the mashed potatoes (yum, mashed potatoes) or stuffing your mom makes, but you're dreading what's suddenly to come, that immersion back into food, family, and forced fun after nearly a year of doing whatever it is that you do on your own. We hear you, too. It's all pretty surreal. How does a grownup adult person prepare? What is there to give thanks for? There are things! Here are a few.
Days Off. Even if you're the most crotchety of crotchety types, it's hard to look a gift day off in the mouth. Hopefully, probably, you don't have to work on Thursday, and can instead join America in stuffing faces, lying on the couch, and engaging in friendly shouting matches over the stupidity of certain football teams or politicians or lifestyle habits with those weird cousins you haven't seen in years, thank goodness. You can lose the remote control under your butt and find it hours later, when it's time to leave, and there will be inexplicable joy in that. If you get work emails, you're excused, pretty much universally, from having to respond to them for at least 24 hours. If you do have to work—perhaps you are a cop, or a fireman, an emergency medical professional, or a person who simply cannot be excused from what he or she does for a living on that day—we hope, hope, hope that you are getting overtime. You deserve it, and seriously, thanks for all you do.
Leftovers. (Also: Eating, Just Eating.) Is there another day in which one may eat gratuitously, happily, going back for seconds and thirds, then take a nap and get up and do it over again, ending the booze-infused turkey coma with sugar-high wave from consuming a bunch of baked goods, washed down with Irish coffee? And then doing it all over yet again?! Is there a better breakfast, by the way, than pumpkin pie? Is there a better midnight snack than a real turkey sandwich, or cold stuffing eaten from the fridge as you stand there in your nightgown before you return to your childhood bedroom and snuggle up to your old bear? If you're lucky you'll go home with a Tupperware container or two, and you can live off that for the rest of the week.
Family. And Your Weird, Special Family Traditions. Yeah, yeah, yeah, you can't choose them. But hopefully if you can't stand them you can also appreciate them for what they are. It's just one day out of 365, you know. No one makes stuffing like your mom does. If you've ever had Thanksgiving away from family, away from the people who served it up during your formative years, you know how essential those strange, passed-down recipes and traditions are, how much they stick and how much you can even smell them sometimes. Maybe you go to a movie every Thanksgiving night; maybe you get up in the wee hours to hit the Black Friday sales with the whole gang. Maybe you drink bad white wine with mom and dad into the morning and gossip about politics, or simply sit in that old recliner still dented with your body's high school contours (sit with care). These are the folks who knew you when, the real you, and they'll never forget that you even as you change. There's something kind of wonderful in that, these are people to whom you are a living memory. (Repeat as mind-mantra over and over again when your aunt/uncle/that neighbor guy why is he even still here? asks if you're ever going to settle down with a nice doctor/have babies/get a real job/laser off your tattoos/lose five pounds/get a nose job/move back home and take care of your parents.)
If that fails...
Family Dynamics, i.e., Things to Put in Your Great American Novel. Family not so Rockwellian? Dysfunction the name of the game? Fear not: Thanksgiving is fodder not only for your stomach but for your upcoming, Franzen-esque thousand-page work on the intricacies and delicacies of a family divided amongst the turkey, which, by the way, was pardoned (or wasn't he?), making things that much more complicated for everyone except your vegan sister who wears leather. Just because it's a challenge doesn't mean you should give up. Be thankful for that.
An Opportunity to Practice Your Defensive Communication Techniques. In person! Face to face, across a table, across a room. Off the Internet. Off Twitter. Off Facebook (though you can return to those old friends later, after seven white wines, and you will, oh you will). When that awful neighbor says, "What's wrong with her, why isn't she married yet?" you can take the opportunity to say, "What's wrong with you for asking that question!" (Years of practice, kids, you can do it.) Point being, sometimes being surrounded with sycophants and yes-men is not good for the soul. Sometimes one needs a little challenge, a little conflict. Sometimes you just need to best another in a rousing game of verbal jousting, and if they make the first move, you can feel confident that at least you didn't start it. Be careful, of course, as no one wants a Thanksgiving fisticuffs. Then again, a punch that doesn't draw blood can add to the above (Great American Novel), and at the very least makes a Fun Story to tell out loud at the next Thanksgiving.
Turkeys. We rarely appreciate these weird creatures, nor the great gift they give to society, linguistically and otherwise. We hardly see them in their natural state, big and beautiful and roasted instead of sliced up for lunchmeat or on deli sandwiches. There's a semantic benefit here, too. We can call people turkeys. We can talk about wattles and combs, caruncles and gallinaceous birds. We can use hilarious expressions like "Gobble, gobble." We can marvel over how weird these big wild animals look, their strange head-bobbing walk, how they're taking over Staten Island, how they can be quite vicious, sometimes!
We can exchange turkey facts, and discuss the possible pardonings of our feathered friends. None of this conversation really matters (and we're probably going to eat them anyway) but, hey. Turkey. Turkey Lurkey Time. It's a dance, too. That's fun.
A Chance to be Earnest for a Second. We're all here and we've got food to eat and things are sort of lovely even when they're not, because at least we have each other, and even if we can't stand each other, there's the food. And if you've chosen to stay home alone and watch a Law and Order: SVU marathon, well, you've got something special, too, and probably there's a pizza place open.
My dad, like, I bet, a lot of dads and maybe moms and grandmoms and grandfathers and good people in general around the world, has a game we play at the table each Thanksgiving. He requests each person to share something they're thankful for, something that happened in the year that's preceded. It doesn't have to be mushy or gushy or spiritual or sappy but at the very least, thinking of something that made you feel pretty awesome, or more good than bad, in the last few months, and saying it, well, that's kind of good for the collective spirit of us all, right? What's so bad about Thanksgiving? Nothing! Well, nothing we can't also see the good in. OK: We're ready. Pass the gravy. We've been working up an appetite all year for this moment.
Insets: Shutterstock/MSPhotographic; Flickr/Ruthanne Reid; Flickr/Chriss Knisley.