Long before the Holiday Season cycles back around, let us pause right now, before the Publix commercials and Hallmark moments are airing, to consider Norman Rockwell paintings are idealized depictions of holiday celebrations—not the real thing.
Here are some suggestions for you to remember when The Time Comes.
As soon as you move your frozen turkey from the freezer to the fridge to thaw, take out a black Sharpie and a 4 x 6 card and write: “My family’s last name is not Walton.” Tape this card to a place where you can easily see it. Remember to take it down before your guests arrive.
During your Thanksgiving feast, your version of “Grandpa Walton” is not going to sit at the end of the table and dispense homespun advice. Long before Mom has dipped her fork into the sweet potato soufflé on her own plate, Grandpa and Dad may have gulped down their turkey, hopped up to hack into the pumpkin pie and fallen over each other in their headlong rush to the television. Neither of them is going to give a speech, inspirational or otherwise.
Rule No. 1. Do not call after the patriarchal figures to coax them back to the table. Smile and reflect on the fact they have worked hard all their lives and have provided the food you are now eating and the roof under which you are now sitting.
Rule No. 2. Do not try a brand new recipe especially if it contains items your family never eats. If you’ve fallen prey to the lure of Good Housekeeping or Southern Living or any one of the thousands of cooking bloggers (blogging cooks?) and want to try something exotic with dried cranberries, pine nuts, and flax seed, then experiment before Thanksgiving and/or Christmas Day and sample it yourself. If you find you have created a lovely but tasteless pile, you can dispense with the idea long before you foist it on unsuspecting guests or family.
Rule No. 3. Let people come and go as they please. If someone arrives a little late or needs to leave right after dinner in order to visit another family or friends, do not lecture or remind them they’ve only been with you for “1 hour, 43 minutes and 27 seconds.” Ask them to pause for a photo, pack up some leftovers, hug them and let them go. Guilt neither cleanses the palate nor goes well with dessert.
Rule No. 4. Let the day unfold as it will. When things go wrong and they inevitably will, it makes for good (or otherwise) memories, which, one way or another, bond you as a family. No one will ever look back on your broken arm (in my particular case—Thanksgiving 1999) with glee, but the story and all its details will be repeated every year with varying shades of mirth or despair.
It comes down to this: No matter which occasion brings your family together, be thankful for the jumble of colorful and unpredictable relatives and friends, the pile of dirty dishes and heap of leftover green bean casserole, a comfortable home in which to stage your dinner and the good health to pull it all off, even if Norman Rockwell would have never chosen your family as his subject.