Monthly Archives: November 2013

Thanksgiving: Watch Your Expectations!


It’s been about two months since I last wrote.  The Restless Wanderer was traveling for three weeks and came back with a fairly significant upper respiratory infection. This rolled into creating a Halloween display for 800 children, making a video for a reunion party, and doing a major rewrite on a manuscript.  Now, here it is two weeks before Thanksgiving and I’m wondering where the year went.

About three months ago I was interviewed for a local magazine asking how to deal with holiday stress.  The reporter asked the usual questions that I think anybody can find the answers to if they look under a leaf.  Eat properly, get enough sleep and exercise.  I think the top piece of advice would be WATCH YOUR EXPECTATIONS.  The first part of watching your expectations is to understand what you’re doing and why. That brings us to a mini history lesson.

The topic is Thanksgiving.  Do you know why we celebrate Thanksgiving?  Do you know why you celebrate Thanksgiving the way you do?

According to the book, Thanksgiving: The biography of American Holiday, the original holiday, in 1620, lasted three days and consisted of fasting, humility, prayer and a feast on the last day.

Prior to this, it was common tradition to set aside a day for giving thanks to God. There were days for giving thanks (Thanksgiving) in all the first colonies, in Native American traditions and in Europe. Standards or protocols for how to give thanks and when varied.

In school, thanksgiving teaches us about the English settlement called the Massachusetts Bay Colony, now known as Plimouth (yes that is the correct spelling) and about the Pilgrims.   I think the average American believes we celebrate thanksgiving to commemorate the goodwill between the Native Americans and the Pilgrims the first winter in 1621.  I wonder how many realize it started out as a somber religious experience.

According to Plimouth Plantation historians, the holiday was ratified by the Constitutional Congress but the date varied state by state. When the Civil War broke out, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving as a national holiday to help reunite the country.  He actually wanted two thanksgivings a year; one in remembrance for Gettysburg to be held the third Thursday in November and the other a more general occasion.  The day was designed as a day for praying for the orphans, widows and aid for our war torn country. There was no special meal or tradition.

We can thank Franklin D.  Roosevelt for deciding the date of Thanksgiving.  Surprisingly, you can say he is also the father of Black Friday.  He tied Thanksgiving to the traditional Christmas season so there could be more Christmas shopping which would help the economy.  The year was 1941.

The time between Lincoln and Roosevelt in how we celebrated Thanksgiving is not very clear to me. It does look like in the north, people started having large family dinners and many in the south had no idea about the holiday. I think what people did, how they did it and what they ate was very much individualized.

Wait a minute, what about all those decorations with Pilgrims and Indians and all the things we learned in school about Thanksgiving?  According to Plymouth Plantation historians, that storyline started in the early 1900s.  Why then?  They claim it had something to do with two manuscripts that increased people’s interest in Plymouth (our modern spelling), Pilgrims, and the Wampanoag Indians.

The American school system chose to use Thanksgiving as a time to teach American freedom and citizenship to children.  By the 20th century we had a set culinary expectation of what Thanksgiving required.  In 1943 Norman Rockwell gave us his famous painting entitled, Freedom from Want, and the ideal Thanksgiving tradition was carved in stone.

Now you know the rest of the story.  Or do you?  I know our Thanksgiving usually consists of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry relish, corn, green bean casserole, rolls and pumpkin pie.  My mother used to add sauerkraut, harvard or pickled beets, red cabbage and lima beans.  Depending on where you live in the country, this list varies.  But what did the Pilgrims eat?

According to a special on the History Channel their diet was a little different.  They would have had things like cod, lobster, eels, oysters, clams, eagles, partridges, ducks, swans, geese, turkey, deer, wheat flour, Indian corn, pumpkins, carrots, grapes, beans, peas, onions, lettuce, chestnuts, walnuts and acorns.  All of it lovingly prepared with seasonings from liverwort, parsnips, olive oil, and currants.  Yum!

Next we look at how our own histories mixed with the national holiday. The result is your expectation of what Thanksgiving is and what it looks like.

So what’s on your table?  And how much is on your table?  Why did you choose the music, the decorations, the amount and type of food for Thanksgiving?

Is it a badge of honor to say you ate so much you have to unbuckle your pants?  Is it worth having a meltdown if the rolls are slightly burnt?  Do you have to do all the work or do you delegate?

How much of your holiday do you allow to happen vs.  you trying to control it?

Are you responsible if someone doesn’t like your food or is not having a good time?  Is the final revile of the Thanksgiving dinner and your sense of self worth tided together?  If something happens and the entire meal is ruined, can you still rejoice because you have family and friends gathered together?

These are important questions that help you examine the things you do to prepare and implement Thanksgiving.  You alone are in charge of what you think, what you do and how you feel.

The more fluid you are, the less stress you will feel.

Being more fluid means you’re going with the flow.  When something happens, it might be disappointing but not catastrophic.  The fluid person knows this, expects issues to happen and rolls with the punches.

It’s very easy during the holidays to get wrapped up and twisted in what the media shows us, our families and what our holidays should look like.  We often assume every other family is having a Norman Rockwell picture.  We forget the media has an agenda and also that nobody’s life is perfect.

So, if your Thanksgiving is not what you remembered when you were a child or you’re not able to provide the Thanksgiving dinner you would like to for your family, don’t sweat it.  More than likely, your memories of what was or your dreams of what could be are seen through either rosy or blue tinted glasses.  While it’s good to have expectations, goals and plans to make the day a memorable one, remember, you’re only human and your family will love you unconditionally; even if you’ve burned the turkey or dropped the green bean casserole on the floor and have to remake it.  If you have a dysfunctional family, the kind that grumbles, argues, complains about everything and never gets along, your dinner unfortunately, is not going to change any of that.  Work on that the rest of the 364 days of the year.

Last point: If mom or Aunt Busybody scrutinizes what you’re trying to accomplish and you feel like no matter what you do it’s not good enough, that’s not about you but about them.  Give it back to them as a present.  Don’t feel bad, don’t suck in the venom, keep telling yourself it’s not about them.  Enjoy your day.  Enjoy your family and friends.  Live in the moment.  Happy Thanksgiving!