The Bright Side of Having a Scaled-Down Thanksgiving
For my family, the point of Thanksgiving is hosting a giant party. This year we won’t — but I’ve found the silver lining.
There is a remarkable consistency to the way my family celebrates Thanksgiving each year. My parents live in Dallas, and they always host the big meal for 30-plus of our relatives, many of whom come from out of town. The week before, my dad will make the rounds at all his friends’ places, collecting any folding tables and chairs they have to spare. My sister will make the centerpieces (usually poinsettias) and set out the holiday plates and napkins. The day before, my partner, Seth, will make his pumpkin and salted caramel apple pies, leaving some extra pie dough in the freezer for my mom to experiment with later. And the morning of, my mom will perform a magical feat: preparing Thanksgiving for 30 in a couple of hours, featuring all her greatest hits: chhole, a sweet-and-sour butternut squash dish called kaddu, cranberry sauce, matar paneer, puri, raita, and roasted sweet potatoes. Everyone will arrive around the same time, and my dad will pop open the first of three magnums of red wine. We’ll chat and eat and drink until the late hours of the night.
It’s a special day, but not because it’s Thanksgiving — the actual holiday, a commemoration of a genocide against Native Americans, holds little meaning to me. It’s special because it is the only time of the year we have the time off to hang out all together. We will smush as many celebrations as we can — Christmas, birthdays, Bhai Dooj — into that one long weekend.
But there’s very little about this year’s Thanksgiving that will feel consistent with years past. It’s still up in the air if people will be coming in from out of town — and those who are will be tested multiple times and quarantined. We won’t need several tables and dozens of chairs. We won’t be busting out the holiday plates. The large party we all expect will have to be significantly scaled down, which is hard for me to imagine. Even though the holiday itself is meaningless to me, I have always associated the day so closely with abundance and intimacy, with long catchups with my aunts and uncles in front of the fire, with games that get far too competitive.
None of that will be happening. Instead, we are trying to create a sketch of what a simple outdoor celebration could look like. Thankfully, in Dallas, you can do things like eat outside in November. My dad will put out tables in our backyard, separated at least ten feet apart; my mom will portion the dinner in Tupperware containers and distribute the dishes between the families. The wine will be served in regular-sized bottles, not magnums. Maybe we will put out a heat lamp if it gets too chilly, and play whatever games we can at a distance (perhaps charades?). We are trying not to do too much planning, as things are changing every day due to the pandemic. But it gives us all peace of mind to at least know that there’s a possibility of a celebration — not the big, loud, boisterous, intimate one that we are used to, but something a little different, and probably virtual.
I’ll be the first to admit that usually, I hate different. I am the person who doesn’t want change, who wants traditions to be upheld. But after living through a year that’s been defined by the word "different," I just feel grateful for the privilege of seeing my family, even if it is at a distance or over Zoom, under much more scaled down circumstances. When everything is the same, year after year, it’s easy to take these days for granted. I’ll miss the big 30-person gathering this November, yet during times like these, I’ll be just as happy cheers-ing my cousin from across the interwebs, treasuring what time we’ve got together.