In 2014 I shared my secret shame: I was too nervous to host Thanksgiving. Seven years later, that’s still true. Fourth of July is easy, I fire up the grill. Easter is a chance to bring out my grandma’s pink china. Christmas is harder, but I have stamina. But Thanksgiving? No way, there’s too much pressure to get specific side dishes right.
My personal cowardice aside, what really struck me while reading my 2014 column: “The thankless job of hosting Thanksgiving” was the innocence of a pre-pandemic world. This is what I wrote:
OK, Thanksgiving, I think I can handle you … or maybe not. There’s one essential element that would be my undoing — gravy.
I can picture it now. All the oven timers are beeping at once. Half a dozen kids run through the kitchen sloshing punch all over the place. My husband wears an apron and carves up the turkey. Then there’s me at the stove freaking out over the drippings.
If it was up to me, I’d serve a premade meal from QFC. Then I’d pour myself a glass of wine and enjoy Thanksgiving for real.
Well guess what? In 2020 I got my wish. Instead of the chaos of children dashing around with olives stuck on their fingers and gravy drama, it was just the four of us at home eating a simple meal. My son baked rolls, my husband mashed the potatoes, my daughter simmered homemade cranberry sauce, and I roasted a turkey breast. Dinner was over almost as soon as it had begun, because after eight months of constant companionship we had run out of things to say.
The pandemic taught me to never take large holiday gatherings for granted again. Being around loved ones is a gift. Visiting with extended family we don’t see often enough is to be treasured. But with that privilege comes responsibilities.
If your son wants everyone to be Covid-tested before you come, do it. If your daughter-in-law asks you to wear masks because your grandkids aren’t vaccinated yet, mask up. If your cousin who lives alone and is a cancer survivor wants to attend Thanksgiving wearing warm coats on your deck, set up a heat lamp and make it happen. All of us have different risk levels. Our job, as people who love our family, is to keep each other healthy.
If you’re the person with the health risk and your family isn’t willing to do basic things to protect you or your unvaccinated child, then you have every right to raise hell and/or stay home. Your child’s presence is a gift to your family, and if they aren’t willing to protect your child, then that is their loss. You can have a perfectly lovely meal without them.
When the holidays stress us out, that’s a sign that we’re doing them wrong. 2020 allowed me to experience Thanksgiving in a new way, one that was quieter and reflective. Someday, after another seven years, I might finally be brave enough to host Thanksgiving. But let’s be honest, if even a pandemic couldn’t boost my confidence then I’m unlikely to volunteer.
Jennifer Bardsley publishes books under her own name and the pseudonym Louise Cypress. Find her online on Instagram @jenniferbardsleyauthor, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as Jennifer Bardsley Author. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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