I think I’ve mentioned before that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Maybe that doesn’t come as a surprise, given that cooking is pretty much my favorite hobby. I also love Christmas–hot cocoa and cider, mulled wine and frosty eggnog, gingerbread, the buche noel with meringue mushrooms that I can never get to look quite right, the smells of citrus and spice and comfort food and pine, fires crackling in the fireplace and cozy sweaters and blankets and books, bright fluffy snow and the little birds that leave tracks in it. I love decorating cookies and how everything smells like cinnamon and pine. And I love wrapping presents, having access to colourful paper and ribbons and the excuse to go all out with decoration. And Christmas music! It’s not Christmas till we break out the Burl Ives Holly Jolly Christmas album while decorating the tree. I highly recommend it.
But I think Christmas has a lot of religious and cultural baggage. It’s frustrating to see the media focusing on an imaginary “war on Christmas” getting more and more ridiculous every year, meanwhile the holiday gets more and more commercial to the point where people start to hate the season just because the capitalism of it all is shoved down our throats so aggressively. And gifting is always a complicated thing. I’m not really one for gifts for the sake of gifts–I like gifts to be deeply personal and thoughtful, and Christmas puts an unrealistic time and financial pressure on most of us. So for Christmas, it’s more the season of holidays than the day itself that I enjoy.
Thanksgiving has all the warmth and food and company of Christmas but is simpler. The story is a simple one of people in need and other people giving help. The food is simple and seasonal. And the thanks part is simply a reflection of gratitude.
Of course, this is an idealized, Hallmark version of Thanksgiving. In reality, there’s fussing and fighting and bickering and gossipping, stress and kitchen disasters and a commercial battle to keep Black Friday profitable. The backstory isn’t great either; it’s mainly about imperialism, racism, disease and violence. All evidence points to the fact that the historical event we supposedly celebrate never actually happened.
This year there’s been a lot of attention paid to the real history of Thanksgiving, the one based on tragedy. And that attention has been calling for a revamp, or a cessation, to the holiday. While I do think that history should be taught more fully, I think people are being unfair, just as there have been unfair arguments about all the other holidays. The story of Thanksgiving that we celebrate is a myth. We are not celebrating a tragedy, but a nice story, a parable, that has a moral to it, in the same way that all world religions celebrate the mythology of their holidays. Celebrating our myth does not erase the tragedy, but neither does focusing on the tragedy help us be thankful.
We had a small dinner with a group of friends. I set the table with an olive green linen and some little wreaths of lingonberry leaves, evergreen and heather made by a woman at the market, and I put white candles in the middle of them. I found some lovely organic clementines with the leaves still on at the market hall, and made one into a pomander with clove and scattered them on the table with the wreaths and some chestnuts.
There was a vegetarian main instead of turkey, but otherwise it was traditional. Mac and cheese with apples and caramelized onion, mashed potato, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole (of course), homemade noodles, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream. The pie was entirely from scratch and by some stroke of luck I managed to get the spices just right–it was like a breath of memories of many Thanksgivings before.
My first time being in charge of cooking, and it was a humble meal. But we ate and drank and talked and laughed, in fact so much that I have no pictures after the friends arrived. It was a moment of being present, and being thankful, and that was the most important part.