It has taken quite awhile, considering I've been responsible in some way or another for family holidays since I was in my 20s. I admit that the weight of that responsibility is all my own. Back in the day, I had a soul-sucking habit of attributing too much sentimentality and piling too much food into one single day. This resulted in an entire week of a misery that, I was convinced, was never fully appreciated by those who benefitted from my martyrdom. By the evening of Thanksgiving, I'd be cross, cranky and ready for bed by 5 o'clock.
I had come by my holiday obsessions honestly. There was no such thing as a "quiet Thanksgiving" for my mother. Like every good Italian, it was required that there be approximately 50 percent more food than necessary for the number of people invited -- and the number of people invited was always inflated because my mother invited anybody and everybody and, unless they told her "no" in so uncertain terms, they were counted as a definite. My mother, though, had both my grandmother and me helping out.
So the bar was set and every year I would frantically try to incorporate any and all traditions and even concocted some of my own. I would cram my kids with so much rich food and heartwarming ritual they would feel positively miserable if they had to spend the holiday anywhere other than with their perfect mother.
The first clue I had that I was missing the mark in the building memories department was the year that I made homemade cinnamon buns for Thanksgiving day breakfast. I got up at 6 a.m. to make sure they had enough time to rise and that they'd be hot and ready when everyone got up. They were absolutely wonderful and I couldn't help puffing up at my domestic derring-do...until one of the Heirs sighed, "But I sure miss those ones you used to make that popped out of the can."
Goodness knows, I tried to deliver the homey holiday Hallmark is convinced we're all supposed to have. I've tried the tradition of going around the table and saying one thing we're thankful for -- this dissolves into chaos pretty quickly when participants list "not having a gaping head wound" or "tequila." I had to hold up the Official Lighting of the Creche so the Bethlehem stable could be festooned with prayerfully and properly respectful, but anachronistic, action figures. I only tried a sing-a-long once -- it's amazing how quickly my family can come up with alternative lyrics...and I'm not talking about the kids, either. I gave up trying to inject tradition into holidays two decades ago.
Let me tell you something about traditions, particularly ones you concoct yourself -- they're never the ones your kids remember anyway. They pick their own favorites, thankyouverymuch, and the more embarrassing they are to you, the better.
Heir 2 began a tradition of seeing how many times he could program the stereo to play "What's New Pussycat?" before it pisses someone off (he'll usually stick in one "It's Not Unusual," just to hear someone say, "Thank goodness!" to a song like "It's Not Unusual" -- which is then followed again by more "What's New Pussycat?").
And, once again, I will dig out the basket of nuts for Heir 1. So he can look at them and know they are there. (Do not eat any of the nuts in the basket, should you visit us during the holidays. The boys weren't even in high school when I bought those nuts. But it just isn't the holiday season without the basket of nuts.)
So, I've learned to let go of the control of the holidays. I no longer wear myself out cooking a huge, complicated menu. Wonder of wonders: no one cares. Do I still fuss and cook on Thursday? You bet I do! Well, until it gets tedious. Then I stop, have a martini and enjoy myself. No one ever left my house hungry.
So Martha Stewart would probably cringe at the haphazard delivery of turkey right off the cutting board and self-serve dessert, not to mention my lumpy mashed potatoes. The wine is probably wrong and I never remember to put on my "nice clothes" after doing all the cooking.
And Topper will probably eat all the leftover Doritos out of the bowl someone leaves on the coffee table. Just like he did last year. And the year before that.
Apparently, it's tradition.