Christmas has always been a complex holiday for my family.
Mine is a blended family so there are a lot of people involved. There's the tug of war over where and when celebrations will occur. So many people you are-and-aren't related to you who cannot decide if they should send you a present (I always loved how one of my sisters' Grandparents - who is only her Grandparent and in no way blood related to the rest of us - would send her a big gift and send the rest of us kids a tacky generic coloring book every year. Even as a child, I knew this was a wildly miscalculated gesture and VERY funny.) The various step and half kids all looking at each other's piles of gifts and wondering if discrepancies were signs of anything. The kids who had another parent of lesser means going through culture shock when comparing the familiar low-income Christmas to the bountiful middle-class Christmas (that would be me).
It was a wierd time for us. Always. Even on good years. Throw in a birthday right on the cusp of the holiday and, well, it made for a wacky mess of a holiday.
Then there was Thanksgiving.
A holiday I could understand. I mean, not the Pilgrims and Indians thing because A) I'm essentially first generation American and our attachment to that aspect of the holiday was tenuous and B) it always seemed to me like the Indians should have saved themselves a lot of trouble in the long run and let the pilgrims starve. Hindsight, I suppose. But aside from the actual history of the holiday, I understood what it meant to US, to MY family. When you have a large blended family, gathering together makes sense. Taking the time to be thankful for each other, for each and every one of us, makes sense.
We have a lot of cooks in our family. And a large number of people to be fed. Thankgiving, no matter what assortment of people were gathering, has always been a circus:
People laughing and chattering and arguing over the best way to make stuffing (it's an issue). The smell of things cooking in the oven and of hot casseroles being brought in the door and of fresh nutmeg and cinnamon being warred over as the pumpkin pie was being made. My mother making sausage cheese balls so we all have something to snack on through the morning as we prepared the meal and set the table... and the other table... and maybe another table (just in case). Cries of dismay when the hardcore home cookin' mom and my cousin the professional caterer both arrive with their "famous" sweet potato casseroles. The Annual Debate over the greatness of Turkey versus the joys of variety (in which the possibility of ham, chicken, duck, goose or oodles of little cornish game hens being prepared the following year is considered. Turkey always wins). My brother gets mad about something and pouts. My little sister eats all the rolls. My older sister and I fight with pickle spears as our swords (yes, even now). My grandmother spends a lot of time trying to identify which grandchild comes from who. My parents get confused and call the kids by the dogs' names and vice-versa. My Aunt gets tired of my Uncle's endless jokes and shrieks his name in that voice that tells you she's going to drag him out by his ear if he doesn't stop soon. The radio is switched back and forth between oldies and christmas songs. My mom wants to watch the National Dog Show and hollers constantly that we, "...have to see this one. It's! OH! Come look at this one! That looks like so-and-so's dog. HURRY! YOU'RE GOING TO MISS THE POMERANIAN. looklooklooklook!"
It's MADNESS. And this gathering is the epitome of what my family is. A crazy, loud, arguing, laughing, neurotic frenzy of people coming together to make something wonderful. We are all so different. We don't always get along. We don't always even like each other. But we all love each other. AND we love to cook and to eat.
On Thanksgiving, my family celebrates in a context I can understand and in a way that suits us. We come together and reaffirm that, although some of us share little or no blood connection, we are TRULY a family. Inextricably. In the most exasperating and wonderful of ways.
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