This may come across as a mundane topic to many of you, but I was incredibly excited to put together an impromptu Thanksgiving feast for my family this year. I have never played host for my family on any major holiday. For the first time, I was beginning to feel a little sad about this. At first, I just wanted to feel like a grown-up, as pathetic as that may sound. Obviously I’m no longer a kid – I have a respectable career, own a house, and I’m raising two kids. What more do I need to prove my status as grown-up to the world? But this year, a new reason was introduced for my desire to take the dinner party reins: my parents recently divorced after 30-plus years of marriage. With that complication added to a pre-existing rift in my family, my husband and I were facing the prospect of attending two or three different functions on both Thanksgiving and Christmas.
So what happened last week is that I did not, in fact, host Thanksgiving. I would have been overwhelmed by the pressure to make the perfect turkey and all the trimmings, since a turkey dinner is not something I have ever undertaken, and the expectations for food run very high on this holiday. Instead, after visiting two different households on the actual Thanksgiving day, and not wanting to accept an invitation to a third place that same day, I offered to make dinner and invite the rest of the family over on the day after Thanksgiving. I don’t partake in Black Friday shopping activities, and besides, this was the perfect excuse to make dinner for everyone without needing to produce a turkey, since everyone would be so over turkey by Thursday night.
I only had five people join our family of four on Black Friday/Post-Thanksgiving Dinner Day, but it was the busiest our little house has been since my four-year-old’s birthday, and besides, that was an outdoor, summer-time party. This time, my family members crammed into my kitchen, standing with mouths agape as they watched me chop vegetables and coat pork chops in parmesan and breadcrumbs. I motioned to the crudités on the dining room table, and told them to help themselves while I got the main course ready. “We weren’t expecting you to do all this,” exclaimed my sister. Of course you didn’t. You thought I was going to open a bag of tortilla chips and salsa. I can’t expect my own family to be surprised that I managed to pull off dinner when I write posts like this, after all. But really, it was not much trouble to put a few easy appetizers together (spinach dip bread bowls, crackers and cheese, veggies and hummus) and then bake parmesan pork chops, spaghetti squash, and serve with a garden salad. The husband and I worked together, while my relatives kept the kids out of our hair. “Melanie’s never done anything like this!” my mother whispered to my husband, as he related to me later. I don’t know if this comment was made out of awe, or terror, but in the end, the pork was not only edible, but tasty. The spaghetti squash was also a hit. My non-Thanksgiving/Black Friday dinner was a success.
I’m sorry this post is so incredibly boring, but it was a milestone for me because this is the closest I have ever come to hosting a major holiday. My father called me tonight to ask how it went, as I had seen him on Thanksgiving already, and I had expressly thrown this dinner to accommodate my mother. “How was Mom?” I told him she was fine, seemed happy to not need to cook anything, aside from a simple vegetable dish she had brought as a contribution. And that was the truth. Although I thought the divorce was a bad idea, I have noticed a peaceful sort of stillness surrounding both of my parents. My father seems happy to be living in the apartment below his sister, and somewhat relieved. My mother was happy to see her grandchildren, enjoyed the dinner and company, and didn’t ask about my father. Perhaps all is as it should be.
At the grocery store the morning of my dinner, when I was shopping for literally all of the food I would need for that afternoon, I decided at the last minute to pick up two small poinsettia plants and a box of chocolate mint candy canes. Are you one of those people who decorates for Christmas (if you celebrate it) on or before Thanksgiving? I’m not. Usually I’m the one complaining that it’s much, much too early to do so, shaking my head disapprovingly at the bows and tinsel adorning the shopping plazas as soon as Halloween is over. But that morning, I realized that it was now post-Thanksgiving, which pretty much meant that it was appropriate in my world to start decking the halls. While I still think putting up a tree would have been over the top, I did place the poinsettias on the dinner table, with a mason jar filled with the candy canes in between them. I also bought some not-at-all-rip-off-of-a-major-brand “Village Candle” scented jars in such varieties as Balsam Fir and Deck the Halls, and placed them around the house.
All this post-Thanksgiving/pre-Christmas merrymaking gave me a sick idea: Why don’t I host Christmas Eve this year as well? We have plans for Christmas day, as usual, but we don’t usually do much on Christmas Eve except scramble to wrap the presents from Santa and binge on Netflix. This time, we will have eight people over, and I’m ramping up the expectations for myself: there will be hot appetizers this time, a yankee swap, an even more Christmasey centerpiece, and perhaps a little party favor type thing, if Pinterest comes through for me. I’m counting on work to slow down a bit to accommodate the labor for this event, and I’m sure I will have at least one late night where I resemble one of those memes cursing myself for committing to this feat (“it will be fun, she said …”). But for whatever reason, whether it’s the kids, the divorce, or the antidepressants, I’m unusually inspired to make the season bright.
(Images are property of M. Dunn; all rights reserved.)