DoubleX is starting a new partnership with the Washington Post Magazine . Each week our contributors will argue over a certain question, and we invite you to join in. This week: Thanksgiving togetherness-love it or dread it?
Hanna Rosin : I know what they say, that holidays are occasions to revisit family stress. Many a great novel and movie has been built on this premise. And in general, I would say it’s true. The Jewish holidays are all about starving and yelling. Vacations involve too much childcare. But for me, Thanksgiving is the blissful exception. Maybe it’s because I really like my in-laws. Maybe it’s because turkey has a soporific effect. Or maybe it’s because my mother-in-law bakes dozens of pies, at a ratio that works out to be about one per person. Who could complain about that?
June Thomas : I look forward to Thanksgiving because it gives me a chance to drop in on other people’s lives. I’m an immigrant and an only child, so I don’t bring any of my own traditions to the table, but thanks to friends, I’ve gotten to spend many Thanksgivings as an honorary family-member. I’ve eaten buffet-style with my girlfriend’s 10 siblings, where we ate a wild turkey from “down the hill,” and I got to test my memory by trying to match kids to parents. I’ve sat at the table of generous pals who round up all their single and foreign friends to make sure they’re not home alone with the Macy’s parade and a TV dinner. I’ve also done the ex-pat thing, where people gathered after an ordinary European workday and tried to fool themselves that strawberry jam is an acceptable substitute for cranberry sauce. And best of all, I’ve always left with a parcel of food, because nothing says family like leftovers.
Dahlia Lithwick : I’m with Hanna and June. As an immigrant, I think Thanksgiving is the sweetest thing since pecan pie. A four-hour dinner just isn’t enough time for all the ancient childhood resentments and festering sibling rivalries to flare up under the civilized surface. Even if you add in the football and the inevitable politics, I always think everyone behaves much better than the novels and movies would suggest. What’s not to love? The only thing bubbling away under the surface at Thanksgiving dinner is hot brown sugar. Mmmmmmmmmmm.
KJ Dell’Antonia : Oh, come on. Won’t someone speak up for the awful family traditions, the kitchen rivalries, the relative who follows your 3-year-old around with a dustpan and broom? The pointed saying of a grace that prays that some unnamed family member will do exactly the thing he or she is most opposed to doing? The comments on what you choose to eat, or not eat, and its effect-positive or negative-on your waistline and general health? The real reason movies are such a popular destination on Thanksgiving afternoon? Put the sweetness and light back in the can with the pumpkin, people.
Lauren Bans : I wish I could enjoy Thanksgiving more. Unfortunately our dinners usually turn into spats. Past debate topics have included Kobe Bryant: Rapist or Not? and Why Won’t You Just Go to Law School? And then there’s my dad’s particular favorite, Palestinians: I Mean, What Is Wrong With Them!? We get loud and argumentative and the shouting makes me overindulge on soothing serotonin-packed carbs that show up on my waistline later. There’s also my pimp of a Grandma. As she’s grown older, she’s become more and more insistent upon Jewish boyfriends, to the point where last year she invited the grandson of her synagogue friend over for dessert and proceeded to show him my baby pictures. (He was nearly 40. I’m 27.) It could not have been more Bridget Jones-ian. That said, the weekend after Thanksgiving is great. We usually go to museums, the Mall of America, and a play. As long as we’re not at one long table together, we seem to do just fine.
Lenora Babb : My Thanksgiving:
Everyone meets up, personal questions get asked, boyfriends stand awkwardly in the corner or get quizzed by grandpa (who can’t hear their responses anyway, but just blusters various questions out and glares disapprovingly). My sister finds creative ways to cover her many tattoos and looks uncomfortable all night, having had to flip her nose-ring up where it rests hidden inside her nostrils.
Anyone who doesn’t want a drink is asked, “What’s-a-matter? You got religion?”
The cousins in law school give updates on their progress, and the lawyer aunts and uncles counsel them. I am asked about my plans for law school-when am I taking the LSAT? And am I studying? And what exactly is that master’s program I’m in? Liberal Studies. Huh. “Well, not a lot of jobs there!”
My mother may get grumpy because my dad has disappeared at the critical moment-putting the turkey in the oven. Once everyone gets a little tipsy, the stories begin-perhaps embarrassing tales from the aunts’ and uncles’ youth (there are five of them, my mom the youngest). Someone will probably get upset at this point, or a heated argument will flare up. If not family stories then the talk will turn to politics. Whoever is the loudest wins.
Amanda Marcotte : My family holidays and how fun they are sadly depends on how many relatives of my generation can make it-cousins, siblings, my aunt and uncle who are my age. If we’re outnumbered by the older generations, then political fights appear to be inevitable. Endless hours of talk radio and Fox News have encouraged conservatives to enjoy annoying liberals, and so when liberal family members like myself show up without our generational reinforcements, they see us an vulnerable and attack. Having more young adults around works, even if those younger adults still see themselves as Republicans. They still feel generational sympathy for us and close ranks, usually in the form of a poker game. Unfortunately, we’re typical Americans and have a familial diaspora from one coast to the other, and so getting everyone in one place at one time is nearly impossible.
Rachael Larimore : I am pleading the Fifth on Thanksgiving with the family …
But I can assure you, having lived in Seattle for eight years, that liberals enjoy annoying conservatives just as much as the vice versa. I believe my husband and I are responsible for multiple incidents of fractures resulting from jaws hitting the floor, which is what happens when you are at a social event in Seattle and you tell people you are a Republican.
Jessica Grose : Since my family is not religious and we don’t celebrate Christmas, Thanksgiving was always the major holiday in our clan. The far-flung California branch would come back east and every year my Austrian grandmother would cook a major feast singlehandedly. Like Dahlia and June, she wholly embraced this American holiday, and her charm and spirit always set the tone for the day. She cooked the entire meal by herself-the turkey and at least five sides AND dessert-until she was 89. What’s more, my parents’ wedding anniversary and my mom’s birthday always fall on or around Thanksgiving Day. With so much to celebrate combined with the delicious, narcotizing turkey, past grievances and political differences are always put aside with very little fuss.
Dayo Olopade : I guess I am at the stage in life where I’m realizing that I don’t actually live anywhere near any of my family members. So Thanksgiving, a massive reunion chez Olopade, is totally awesome for me.
Probably the best thing about Thanksgiving at my house is that it’s a glorious sham. No seasonal root vegetables, no green bean casserole, no pumpkin pie. Sometimes there is a can of cranberry sauce that no one eats. But it’s optional. Basically my mom cooks a bunch of (delicious) Nigerian food-efo, pepper soup, jollof rice, plantains-plus a turkey to cover up our minor fraud. And as marriage and reproduction has expanded the gathering to more than 50 strong, we’ve taken to preparing two turkeys-one for the dinner, and one for after my excellent mother gives away every last drumstick to the stray international student or lonely colleague she’s invited into the belly of the Nigerian beast.
Jessica Lambertson : My boyfriend and I have to share holidays, and this year he gets Thanksgiving.
It’s especially awkward for me because his parents are immigrants from Taiwan. Not only do they not really celebrate Thanksgiving, they don’t like turkey. It’s a mixture of interest and devastation for me. You mean you don’t pass around corn kernels and count your blessing on them? There won’t be the required yams and green-bean casserole? I don’t have to lead the family in a song-prayer?
Instead, we go out to dinner and get hot pot (probably the most wonderful crossover from Chinese cuisine). I have to explain that I’m getting a graduate degree I will probably never use, and he has to explain why he hasn’t gone back to school.
Dinner usually goes pretty well but then there’s the required family fight afterward. With the little Mandarin I know, I can pick up some choice words, but it’s usually resolved by bed time.
I won’t have my kooky German grandpa and my mother’s frantic desire to make a pie for each person at the table, but I will have a more relaxed weekend.