Jim Mullen: The no-pressure Thanksgiving
After decades of doing the same old thing, I’ve decided to host an Alternative Thanksgiving this year.
I’ve sat through too many turkey-and-stuffing dinners to count, and many of them weren’t all that much fun: family squabbles, kitchen disasters, drunken uncles, out-of-control children, out-of-control adults, missed plane connections, you name it. We’ve turned it into some kind of horrible high school prom where everything has to be just like it’s always been, and the stress levels are through the roof.
This year, I want to get out of the traditional Thanksgiving rut. So I asked myself: What is the opposite of a formal turkey dinner with all the fixin’s, served on fine china? My answer was shrimp. Shrimp may not actually be the opposite of turkey, but neither is a goose, or a turducken, or tofurkey, or a ham. For all I know, caviar might be the true opposite of turkey, but I can’t afford that.
So, shrimp it is. I invited my friends and neighbors Bob and Helen, and explained that my Alt Thanksgiving was going to be everything you wouldn’t expect at a Thanksgiving dinner. I mentioned the shrimp and they kindly explained that I was out of my mind, but that they didn’t want to get on a plane and visit their kids, so — sure, they would come.
They asked what they could bring. “What,” I wondered, “would be the opposite of cranberry sauce?” They settled on fondue.
Tom and Betty, down the road, said they’d been to 60 Thanksgivings and were ready for a change.
“What can we bring?” I told them, “the opposite of sweet potatoes.” Betty said sauerkraut, but after a little thought about the shrimp and the fondue, she decided on California rolls.
My next invitees, Rose and Bucky, said they would bring the opposite of stuffing.
“And what would that be?” I asked.
“Oh, it’d have to be something that is healthy and tastes awful, like kale.”
“No one will eat that.”
“Hmmm, then something light that goes with shrimp, fondue and California rolls,” they said. “Seaweed salad?”
“Yes! That’s thinking outside the bento box.”
This was actually starting to sound like a fun dinner party. So I started telling more and more of my neighbors about the shrimp, fondue and California rolls, and more and more friends started coming up with things they would really like to eat besides the same-old, same-old.
Oh, did I mention the idea of “festival seating” and paper plates? And everyone I invited can walk to my house. No picking anyone up at the airport then finding out their flight has been delayed for four hours.
No relatives we don’t agree with; no sulky teenagers. I can fight with them any day of the week, so why should I let them wreck my Thanksgiving? I’m not spending any time worrying about fine china and seasonal tablecloths and whether Aunt Helen is bringing her green beans in mushroom soup that we’ve all eaten for the last four decades. Life is short. Eat what you want and spend time with people you like.
As for tradition, do you think all the Pilgrims liked each other? As I recall, there were a lot of people accusing each other of being witches and warlocks — a tradition that continues to this day. I’ve been to many Thanksgiving dinners that turned out to be “Dr. Phil” shows instead of parties. Enough of that. We’ve got to relax.
Now, when I hear someone on TV telling me how to make the “perfect” turkey, all I can think is, “It’s a turkey! It’s not perfect to begin with.” If you enjoy making turkey and stuffing, have at it — but if it’s making you crazy, nervous or stressed out, start your own tradition.
What is the point of having a day off if you spend it working harder than you do at work? If you want to create a memory, do something memorable. Why can’t shrimp become your traditional Thanksgiving meal? Or brats in sauerkraut? Or spaghetti and meatballs, or General Tso’s chicken? Do what you want and have a happy holiday for a change.
Contact Jim Mullen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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