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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11/19/2020 05:15:43 pm
I read all of your posts, just don't reply. But imagine somehow I show up at least as a # of total people who have read a post.
Karen K McCann
11/20/2020 04:07:46 pm
Kathy, what a gift to have that time with your daughter. I'm so happy for you both. And yes, today's youngsters face a very different world and a daunting set of challenges. Let's hope they turn out to be the greatest generation ever, and find brilliant new ways to navigate the messy world they're inheriting.
11/19/2020 06:04:01 pm
Karen K McCann
11/20/2020 04:15:04 pm
Ana, I'm so glad you've enjoyed my books and this blog. As you know, my writing comes from the heart and it's wonderful to hear it's bringing you lightness and laughter, especially in these troubled times. I am so sorry you've had to cancel plans for Paris. Let's hope the vaccine makes all the difference and that one day in the not too distant future it will be safe to pursue travel dreams once more. And don't worry — I'll certainly keep writing. Living in interesting times gives me plenty to write about!
11/19/2020 08:10:59 pm
All your blogs are great but I think you've outdone yourself this time.
Karen K McCann
11/20/2020 04:16:30 pm
What a wonderful gift for your family, Nancy! I am sure they will treasure it and pass it down through the generations.
11/19/2020 09:00:47 pm
Hilarious! And grateful to be in France, to have a wonderful family, that we have a new president, that 2020 is over, and that I have your blog to lighten my day. Put it on your tablecloth!
Karen K McCann
11/20/2020 04:19:57 pm
Lynn, I'll put all of that on the tablecloth with pleasure. What joyous reasons for gratitude and celebration. Cheers!
11/20/2020 12:30:53 am
I am so thankful my mother passed in January before Covid hit the US. She would have hated the isolation and lock down of her assisted living. I have great memories of visiting her and taking her for rides and out for hot fudge sundaes. I am thankful that all of my family and friends have stayed healthy so far and I pray they continue to be so. Blessings to you and yours in 2021!
Karen K McCann
11/20/2020 04:29:07 pm
My condolences on your mother's passing, Lucinda. What a tough year you've had! And while losing a parent is always heartbreaking, I agree there was a silver lining in that she was spared the ordeal of lockdown. I have friends and family in their 80s and 90s who suffered through long periods of isolation in nursing facilities, and it takes its toll. Good to hear that the rest of your family and friends are staying well. Here's hoping for better times ahead for all of us in the new year.
11/20/2020 02:25:40 am
Oh Karen, I don't think you'll have room on your "quilt" for all the things I feel grateful for! Not just for things in spite of the pandemic, but many of them because of it. There are 2 sides to every coin, and I have been so fortunate to experience many of the bright sides of this scourge.
Karen K McCann
11/20/2020 04:39:47 pm
Elizabeth, I love your gratitude list and will happily include it in my quilt (although I will have to edit it down a bit for space!). I'm so glad my blog posts have made you laugh and cry — as I often do myself while writing them. How wonderful that you have your parents (92 and 94 years young!) and good friends to sustain you through these challenging times. Congrats on recognizing tunes to movies you never saw. Pop culture is amazing; I will never get some songs, like the original Alka-Seltzer jingle, out of my head. The cards were all on Etsy.com, which is a great resource for cottage-industry products. And finally, thanks for your good wishes, and here's hoping 2021 brings better times for us all.
11/20/2020 10:01:13 am
The thing about when things go south like they have this year is you become very aware of what you have to be grateful for. I'm going to say I'm grateful for friends old and new, near and far. And may the far friends be near again sometime in the near future.
Karen K McCann
11/20/2020 04:46:38 pm
Amen to all of that, Mary! As we have both discovered, one of the joys of living abroad and traveling widely is having friends in so many places. Somehow we keep the conversation going across the miles, and each exchange brings fresh perspective on the world. That's something I'm very grateful for these days.
11/20/2020 03:25:37 pm
I am grateful for so many gifts: my life, the presence of the mystery of God in my life, our magnificent and abundant universe, my 2 sons and 3 grandsons and our good health and wellness, for my good neighbors and friends, for a dear person in my life who died peacefully on November 7th, after years of health struggles, & in deed for our new president!
Karen K McCann
11/20/2020 04:55:22 pm
Faye, you are blessed with so many gifts: faith, family, friends, and an appreciation of the magnificent universe that is our home. It's great to take a moment to reflect on the abundance of our lives and to focus on the positive — including a new administration, which I hope will do good things for this country. I was sorry to hear about your friend's passing, but a peaceful exit is indeed a blessing. Sounds like you have many things to toast when you make your apple cider mimosa. I bought the ingredients yesterday, so let's compare notes later after we've tried them.
11/21/2020 01:10:04 am
Absolutely, Karen. Thank you so much!
11/20/2020 09:49:28 pm
2020 started off with an insane parade in Seville that you and Rich took us to! Always grateful for that trip, and your blog in general. It's informative and entertaining, especially this year.
Karen K McCann
11/21/2020 01:24:26 am
We did have fun at Seville's zany Three Kings parade, didn't we, Jo? I'm so glad to have met you and Bill, and to know that you two found love, managed a pandemic wedding, and are sustaining each other through this crazy year. Happy Thanksgiving to you both!
11/21/2020 12:53:46 am
This might be the first time the 4 of us are going to have a Tday with just us so that makes me very thankful. We all can make that a turkey talk discussion. I am thankful all our families and kids in Nica are safe after the horrific devastation. And a truly weird thing is, if not for Covid I was coming home from Nica yesterday. Thankful for orange crush too. We make a paper turkey and each put a feather on it saying what we are thankful for. Happy Tday to all.
Karen K McCann
11/21/2020 01:26:59 am
Kitty, I love the image of you four sticking feathers of gratitude on a paper turkey. Maybe next year we'll try that instead of a quilt! Enjoy turkey day together, and I'm so glad that you and yours are safe.
11/24/2020 12:18:25 pm
Karen, what a great post! I was making a mental list of what I'm grateful for and then got the news that both my sister and her husband have Covid. So now I am grateful that they are still dealing with it at home and that even though we are across the ocean, there are ways to support them at this time. Grateful that my brothers and sister-in-law are arranging care package deliveries, grateful for easy communication through WhatsApp, grateful they have their 2 new kitties to comfort them.
Karen K McCann
12/3/2020 12:41:29 am
Kim, I'm so sorry to hear your sister and her husband have Covid. They are lucky to have such an active support system, modern technology providing good communication, and two new kitties to comfort and entertain them. But it's still hard for them and for everyone who loves them. Here's hoping they make a full and speedy recovery!
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
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