Thanksgiving has been celebrated since 1621. It’s amazing we have maintained the tradition for that long. I suspect it has less to do with giving thanks and more to do with passing gravy. Habits die hard when reinforced with pie a la mode. For the mode alone I’d wear a, “Let’s Talk Turkey!” sweatshirt every year.
We haven’t just continued the customary foods; we’ve kept up the antiquated Thanksgiving dialogue, like, “What on earth are giblets?” and “These pants shrunk.” The longest running Thanksgiving oral tradition, however, is based on the family motto, “I’m not rude, just honest because after all — we’re family!” As a matter of fact, the first recorded Pilgrim toast was by Edward Winslow’s moth er: “I give thanks that Edward donned a decent pair of breeches and no longer courts Elizabeth, hussy with ankle-showing petticoats. Huzzah!”
Families dole out intruding questions, blunt observations, and offhanded insults like it’s nobody’s business because among family, it’s everybody’s business. We volunteer our two cents on everything from re-decorating to reflux, rearing children to reducing rear ends, running shoes to running lives. The comments are subtle (“So, you still have that tattoo?) and not so much (“You don’t need a second helping, believe me”). It seems like relative genetic similarities do little to reduce relative general rudeness. DNA can hang by a third-cousin-thrice-removed thread and the license to offend would still be issued. If our friends ever talked to us like that, book clubs would disband, girls night out would be singular, and Starbucks would go bankrupt. At last year’s gathering, a cousin who had become a cosmetic salesperson excitedly invited me to, “Call me for an appointment — I can take 10 years off your face!” I’d have taken the smile off her face with my fork if it was-n’t loaded with candied yams. My sister nudged me to stand up for myself. Good advice. I stood up and got more wine. With the holidays approaching, I researched ways to avoid stress at family gatherings. Below are some suggestions I found, followed by my helpful examples.
1. Act like an adult — Don’t reenact childhood roles. When your brother reminds everyone about the time you put pretzel sticks up your nose and said you were an elephant, smile and say something grown-up, like, “Ah, youth. By the way, poopie head, I was a wooly mammoth.”
2. Be flexible with rituals. This is particularly true of customs like expecting family to be thoughtful enough to show up on time and not make the rest of us stare at the antipasto wilting on the counter.
3. Respect differences. When Uncle Frank says he fought at Anzio, don’t mention that it was in a corner bar. In 1987.
4. Be attentive. This advice has been heeded at my family gatherings since cousin Mark showed up with a chainsaw and revved it for the kiddies (true story).
5. Don’t discipline anyone else’s children. When your nephew repeatedly kicks you in the shins, gently suggest he may be more comfortable if he took off his cleats.
6. Don’t try to change anyone. For the diaper set, combine this with No. 5: Don’t try to change anyone else’s children.
7. Team up. Strong teams include a family therapist, yoga instructor, and sommelier.
8. Be mindful of appropriate public vs private conversations. The event should be announced as being, “Facebook free — leave electronic devises at the door.”
9. Use humor. Check.
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