Many of my Spanish friends are firmly convinced of two things: 1) Thanksgiving is the most significant holiday in the US calendar, and 2) all American women spend their leisure hours sewing quilts. In vain have I protested that I’ve never quilted in my life. Equally impossible is convincing them that the prevalence of Thanksgiving scenes in movies is not due to the occasion's supreme importance but because it’s the one holiday we all celebrate in roughly the same way. On the fourth Thursday in November, millions of us set aside religious, ethnic, even political differences to fulfill the time-honored tradition of bringing out the best in family disfunction since 1621.
Will it will really feel like Thanksgiving without the chaos of a large, multi-generational donnybrook? Might the day fall flat without arguments over seating arrangements, whether marshmallows truly belong on sweet potatoes, and why your temperamental uncle stormed out shouting “You cut the turkey without me? You might as well have stabbed me in the heart,” as in the iconic scene from the movie Avalon?
Naturally, those of us who are sensibly avoiding super-spreader holiday feasts are feeling a little adrift right now. I’m deeply saddened that Rich and I aren’t in Seville to hold our traditional Thanksgiving potluck followed by an afternoon of old-fashioned parlor games. Clearly I’ve got to find fresh ways to make the day special for the two of us, perhaps even create a few new traditions. Here’s are my best ideas so far.
Sip apple cider mimosas. I found this simple recipe online and believe it’s just what I need to start the day off right. You rim the glass with a 50-50 mix of brown sugar and cinnamon (moisten the rim first to make it stick), pour in equal amounts of cider and champagne, and sip away. If you’re not sure this is for you, try it out well in advance (today, if possible) and repeat as often as necessary to make a fully informed decision.
Avoid supermarkets; do last-minute shopping online. The CDC recommends staying out of crowded grocery stores in the run-up to turkey day, and that sounds like good wisdom to me. So I’m stocking up on Thanksgiving provisions this week, then filling in any last minute gaps with an online order from a nearby market with reliable delivery service.
Ask people what they're thankful for. In the early years of our Thanksgiving feasts in Seville, people were bashful about standing up and toasting things for which they were grateful. Now our guests, including small kids, tell me they start thinking about their toasts days, even weeks in advance. So let me ask you: If you had to stand up right now and name something you’re thankful for, what would it be? Even 2020 had some good moments (yes it did!). My list includes a friend getting off the ventilator, the election signaling change, and (we hope) viable vaccines at last. I’m spending a lot of time on Zoom, often with those who are usually at my Thanksgiving feast, and I’ll be asking everyone to tell me what they are grateful for these days.
Write those thankful thoughts on a tablecloth. I loved this idea when I ran across it online yesterday, and I immediately suggested to Rich that we try it this year. “We can write down what people tell us they’re grateful for,” I said. "The article suggests buying a canvas drop cloth.” But Rich was sure we had something in the attic that would serve, and after a brief rummage around, he emerged with an ancient quilt the movers had used to pad our furniture on the truck back in 2007. The quilt is cheap, battered, threadbare, and sporting unidentifiable stains and patches of masking tape. “Perfect for 2020,” I said.
Play games online. My family (and I say this lovingly) is obsessed with games of wit and chance. So I’ve been checking out versions of charades and Pictionary that use an online word generator to get the Zoom party going. Testing knowledge is another family sport; we’ve been known to idle away hours on the beach with stacks of cards from Trivial Pursuit. There are countless online options for group and solo fun such as Thanksgiving Trivia and virtual pub quizzes on topics such as Game of Thrones and Bond movies. I’m about the least musical person on the planet, but as a film buff, I was mesmerized by the multiple-choice Movie Music Quiz, and by this video, which gives you ten seconds to name that tune.
Hold a scavenger hunt IRL (in real life) with housemates. When I was a kid my mother loved to send us off on scavenger hunts; she’d give us a list of objects to find and we’d be out of her hair for hours. With just two of us playing this Thanksgiving, I thought Rich and I could each come up with three items for the list, so we’d each be seeking a total of six things. These could be simple (something you eat spaghetti with) to profound (an object that represents a mystery in your life) to esoteric (yesterday, today, tomorrow). This isn’t a competition, it’s an opportunity to use ordinary objects to spark meaningful conversation. Possibly over another round of apple cider mimosas.
Shop for holiday cards. In the late afternoon, between turkey, games, and Zoom calls, I expect I’ll have a little downtime, which I can use to prep for the next round of celebrations. Living overseas for so long, I’ve fallen into the convenient habit of sending out digital holiday greetings. But this year, when so much of our lives are spent staring at screens, I feel the need to reach out in a more tangible way. So I’m sending out old-fashioned greeting cards — yes, paper, ink, stamps, the whole nine yards — with wording that properly reflects the spirit of 2020.
As you gear up for Thanksgiving, even if that’s just buying a frozen turkey pot pie and picking out a movie, I hope you’ll pause for a moment and look back over 2020. No, wait, don’t relive the whole ghastly year (shudder!), just see if you can find a few highlights that spark gratitude. And then tell me about them in the comments below, so I can add them to my Thanksgiving quilt.
“My Thanksgiving quilt.” Yikes! Typing those words, I realize that maybe my Spanish friends weren’t so far off the mark after all. Thanksgiving is, if not the biggest, perhaps the best of our holidays, the one that’s abundant without being as overwhelming as the high-octane December merrymaking. And now I’ve managed to add a quilt into the mix. I don’t think this battered old furniture pad is precisely what my amigos had in mind, but now it strikes me as a fitting symbol of America’s imperfect, makeshift, ever-evolving holiday. And a good reminder that at this turning point of the year, it’s time to leave the past behind, live as fully as possible (yes, even in our present tattered state), and embrace the future with a lighter, warmer heart.
So what are you thankful for right now? What Thanksgiving traditions are you fulfilling this year? Please let me know in the comments section below.
PS: Don't look for a post next week; I'm taking time off to enjoy the holiday. I'll be back with a new article in December.
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This post is part of my ongoing series of articles on surviving the pandemic while holding on to some shreds of our sanity and sense of humor, and remembering to enjoy life's small comforts.
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I'm an American travel writer based in Spain, to which I've just returned after a 16-month absence due to the pandemic.
As I resettle in Seville, my favorite city on the planet, I'll keep you posted on how the pandemic has reshaped the landscape and where to go to find fun, adventure, and great food in this quirky, engaging city.
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