It’s always funny when you realize that you were brought up in a completely different way than most of the people you know. Like when your snobby rich roommate in college spends the afternoon in a complete daze after he realizes you didn’t have a pony growing up, or when your upstairs neighbors realize indoor soccer is frowned upon in the States.
I’m constantly having these moments. No I didn’t have a pony when I was a kid, fuck ponies. I hate kids with ponies. *high fives Seinfel* For me, one of the most glaring differences between myself and other kids is the way my family celebrates Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving, you know, that holiday where we celebrate wrapping corn in fish, broken promises to Native Americans and the unending incompetence of the Detroit Lions. Across the land families gather together and sit down for dinner, eldest sons come out of the closet, dishes are thrown, along with tantrums and sibling slugfests are held over the din of a mother shouting, “you’re tearing this family apart!”
That’s sort of how I’ve become to envision the rest of America’s Thanksgiving. Most of the people I talk to have horror stories about pained silences and unpassed salt, I’ve just patched it together into one giant George A. Romero movie in my head.
For the longest time I always just assumed everyone had a Thanksgiving like the one I do. I’ll get to the details in a minute, but I usually end up staring agape at friends asking, “you mean you just eat dinner with your mom and dad?”
That never really made any sense to me, what’s the point of a holiday where all you do is sit around with your parents and brothers and sisters for dinner? Shouldn’t that just be a Thursday? Since when do we need a holiday to tell us to spend time with our families? In my situation, I’m fairly certain every one takes it as a chance to get a break from eating with the same fucking people every night. That would make me throw a dish or two myself.
As usual, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me outline how our Thanksgiving runs. First off, the guestlist consists of anywhere from 20 to 50 people. My mom, dad, two brothers, sister, around ten aunts and uncles and double that in cousins. See, my grandfather, David, married into a slightly larger family, ala the Brady Bunch after splitting my grandmother. Then there are some family friends from around the globe, new spouses, old spouses, and a revolving cast of guest stars, cameos, boyfriends, girlfriends and visiting dignitaries. Think Hee Haw with a generous helping of wine. Lots of wine, less Goldie Hawn.
Almost always the party’s held at my aunt and uncle’s house in scenic Northern Jersey. Everyone starts arriving around 1 or 2 in the afternoon and everyone brings a dish. The womenfolk cook, or hang out in the kitchen, I’m not really sure what goes on in there because I’m usually planted in front of the television, watching, that’s right, football.
I’m not a “sports guy.” Amazingly, I just made air quotes while typing that out. The very fact that I have a set of testicles means that I know what the holding penalty is, and how many yards it’ll set you back. However, I have no idea who’s on which team, unless that guy’s been in a commercial or something. I never really saw the point.
But on Thanksgiving, I’m a football fan. We all are. In fact, everyone was spawned out of a Giants/Yankees Fanbabymaker 3000, so that’s who we root for, or against someone in the same division, I’m guessing it’s a little like religion or the subtle racist overtones other families have, you’re just raised with it. We hoot, holler and talk about the play that just happened like it was a landmark speech on national healthcare or something.
This goes on for a few hours. Remember the wine I mentioned before? My Uncle Murph keeps his bar really well stocked and we plunder it as more people arrive and the games go on. By six o’clock everyone’s a little faded, the food’s laid out and we gather around the buffet for Grace.
My Grandfather, ever the patriarch, gives this blessing every year. He’s got one of those sonorious voices that reverberates off the stuffing in a pleasing manner. The content is usually the same, hinted each year with a touch of current events, shows of support for friends and families in need and a touch of his spiritual growth. There were a few years we thanked Buddha along with Christ for the food, we like to keep our bases covered.
Dinner itself lasts about forty minutes. It’s almost a footnote. People are scattered around the house like refugees, trying to eat quickly, because how can you talk when you’ve got to eat? For many of us, this one time a year is the only time we get to see each other, and honestly, I eat every other day, I’d rather talk to my family than see how many candied yams I can wolf down. Which isn’t to say the food isn’t good, no, the food is definitely good, just not why I go.
Personally, I rush through dinner because of what comes after. We play Categories. Teams of four to six people grab a sheet of paper sectioned into 25 boxes with, uh, categories. Whoever wins gets to eat dessert first. Letters always include T and some impossible letter like J. Topics always include “Things We’re Thankful For,” “Body Parts” and “Songs.” Then two other more obscure sections. Recent highlights have been, “Beers or Cocktails,” “Sports Teams,” and “Methods of Torture.”
Alright, the last one I made up, but it doesn’t matter because the whole point is to come up with the most bizarre answer possible, in order to get two points. A repeated answer will only net you one. Body parts usually involve varying genetalia, the frequency of which increases with ones proximity to puberty or extreme distance there from. The controversial nature of the G-Spot might not net you any points, as some older gentlemen might doubt its existence. Also people can really be thankful for anything and having won some money on Jai Lai, I used it to much groaning from the peanut gallery.
Challenges are handled by way of Applause-o-meter, as made up bones or organs get tossed out the door and no points are awarded. Shouting and mock anger rule the hour and people try to invoke the multiple point aliteration rule, again to groans. Saying you’re thankful for the hostess, my aunt Deb, will get you a kiss on the cheek, but no extra points. Dictionaries are threatened to be consulted and teams vow to walk out if their answers aren’t accepted.
Finally we get to songs and in order to score points you’ve got to sing a bar or reasonable fascimile thereof. What usually follows is the most off key selection of show tunes, pop hits and hymnals you’ve ever heard. Hearing a middle aged man try to convey the chorus of Britney Spears’ “Slave 4 U” isn’t exactly appealing to the ears, though it is funny. My unlce Duffy rapping Jay Z’s H to the izz-O and then proclaiming that he’s “down with it” is also not to be missed. Also, every year, my grandfather sings “An Irish Lullabye” which we just call “Tora Lora.”
For me, that’s the sign that Thanksgiving’s really happened, another year’s passed and all is right with the world, even if it’s been mislabeled.
Eventually, all the points get tallied up and dessert and coffee are had. Around 10 people start shuffling out, kisses and hugs given, usually the men drive away, only to switch places with the women at the gas station down the street. Appearances need to be kept up you know.
And that’s how I spend Thanksgiving, every year, drinking, talking, laughing and playing games. I don’t think I could spend it any other way. You’ve got a day off, what are you going to do? Eat or Party? You have to eat, but partying is one of those often neglected essentials that can get passed by in the ritual of holidays. Live it up, turkey isn’t as seasonal as you’d think.