Home / "family values" / Thanksgiving – Oh, to hell with it

Thanksgiving – Oh, to hell with it


Let me start by extending my deepest sympathies to those of you who will soon sit down to a holiday meal with wingnut relatives. Especially this year. Wow. (Based on some of the comments you all have shared, I must ask: Have you considered earplugs and some sort of face shield?)

Or really, anyone who will attend a family gathering that contains one or more people you could happily go without seeing until after the heat death of the universe.

It’s a difficult time of the year for people who didn’t draw the Idealized Family card. One of the more noxious beliefs about the holiday season is that any differences family members have are a) Relatively minor and/or b) Should be put aside. [Begin quavery violins.] Because holidays are about family and gratitude and love and giving and togetherness.


Even those evergreen articles about Coping with the Holidays that do address stress triggered by family lack one very important suggestion. A suggestion that I’m going to share with you right now:

If you have family members you normally avoid like the plague, continue to do so. Square that if you have health issues that lower your tolerance for additional stress.

But what if that means spending a holiday alone? Well gee, let’s consider the implications of spending a holiday alone. If you spend a holiday alone, you get at least one obligation-free day all to yourself.

And on Thanksgiving that means no one will interrupt while you’re listening to Alice’s Restaurant.

Question answered, I think.

And then there’s Thanksgiving Day for two. It is important that couples have a full and frank conversation about what they want to do on a holiday that is associated with a large meal. They should weigh their desires and expectations against the financial, physical and mental effort involved in making the meal Special, and possibly decide – To hell with it.

Here’s a transcript of one such conversation:

A: So, do you want to have anything special to eat on Thanksgiving?

B: Eh, I’d rather just enjoy the day off. But if you want to cook something special, you can.

A: I was going to make a butternut squash pie*.

B: O.K.

*Update: I’ve never made one before and want to try it before Christmas with the in laws (great people, high baking standards). I will work from at least one recipe I find on the internet. Since I assume it will be sortofish like a sweet potato pie, the crust will be gingersnap crumb.

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  • Cheerful

    There is a value I think in ritual gatherings of friends and family over a meal, even if people find it annoying in actual practice. We live in a world where atomization and hermitization (a new word and I am proud of it) is extremely easy. Forcing yourself to actually talk to people you are not crazy about is not such a bad thing, despite the word “forcing”.

    This of course leaves out the possibility that family is in unfortunate cases seriously toxic, and Thanksgiving would mean sitting across from the Uncle that molested you. And who needs that kind of stress? At which point I suggest perhaps finding friends who don’t drive you crazy, or even strangers off the street, and having a meal with them.

    Thanksgiving always seemed to me one of the holidays worth preserving – difficult really to completely commercialize, created almost entirely by people themselves, consisting of a very simple thing – an intentional gathering around a table for a shared meal with people you might not otherwise see. And perhaps, even finding something in life to thank if you are so inclined. Not such a bad thing to preserve in a culture.

    • Origami Isopod

      Forcing yourself to actually talk to people you are not crazy about is not such a bad thing, despite the word “forcing”.

      Yeah, no. You don’t have to have been abused by your relatives in order to have a good reason not to want to interact with them. Life is too short and I don’t feel obliged to spend the day with racists, sexists, or homophobes — or even people who are plain old assholes — simply because we share some DNA. Nor is that a good reason to subject anyone to people who don’t believe they should have full human rights because of gender, orientation, identity, or anything else.

      The “but they’re faaaaaaaamily!!!” crowd can suck it up and deal. Kinship is not the ultimate decider of whom I spend my time with, and neither are the whims of manipulative relatives who want everybody to play at being One Big Happy Family so they don’t have to face facts. Been there, done that, done with it.

      • alex284

        The way I see it, the difference between the amount of DNA I share with extended family and with the rest of humanity is a rounding error.

        I totally see cheerful’s qualms about everyone just staying alone, and a lot liberalism’s rhetoric around negotiating relationships can feel cold on the surface. We need other people, and some folks are scared of the possibility that if everyone had total consent in all situations that they would never see anyone anymore. Making up rituals to badger others to hang out with us (or ourselves to hang out with others) may seem like a solution to some.

        I don’t think there’s a solution to that sort of thinking, other than encouraging people to make friends and assuring them that it is possible for everyone even if there’s no law forcing it on them.

        • LeeEsq

          Total consent works great in sexual relationships. I don’t think it really translates that well into any other interpersonal relationship. Sometimes being a friend means you have to go places you don’t like simply to hang out with a friend. One of my good friends has some very different tastes in music than I do. I go to concerts with him to have a good time even if the music is nothing I’d listen to on my own.

      • Judas Peckerwood

        Kinship is not the ultimate decider of whom I spend my time with, and neither are the whims of manipulative relatives who want everybody to play at being One Big Happy Family so they don’t have to face facts. Been there, done that, done with it.

        Hear, Hear, seconded, word, etc. I stopped doing the annual Pilgrimage of Pain with my wingnut relatives a decade ago and have never looked back.

        Pro tip: Thanksgiving is one of the very best hiking days of the year, as the trails are completely devoid of people, aside from me.

      • Cheerful

        Then find some people you can stand to be in the presence of and have a meal with them instead. There is a value to a yearly gathering of love and food with other humans.

        • Origami Isopod

          Thank you for your not-at-all condescending or presumptuous advice.

          • Lee Rudolph

            Thank you

            See! You’re already getting into the spirit of things!!


            Here is my contribution to the annual festivities (more or less in Paul Goodman’s “little prayer” stanza). Not processed in the same facility with any theism whatsoever. May be consumed with alcohol and (if unavoidable) in the presence of small children, machinery, or small mechanical children. Endures limited taunting but may snap unexpectedly. Remove all wrapping material before exposing to high heat. Void in Southern Hemisphere.


            Little Prayer in November

               That I am alive, I thank
               no one in particular,
            and yet am thankful, mostly,
            although I frame no prayer

               but this: Creator
               Spirit, as you have come,
            come again
            , even in November,
            on these short days, fogbound.

    • Nick never Nick

      I don’t think this is totally an issue of deciding how we spend our time — I think it has to do with the instability and poverty of modern American communities. Normally, a community would include relatives, and so everyone would have a chance to interact with them normally, instead of a ‘pay to travel and then spend several days totally immersed in each other’s company’ holiday. The latter is just as unnatural as never seeing your relatives. People argue about this because both options suck.

      I’ve lived in SE Asia, in a village where I had many in-laws, a lot of whom didn’t get along that well, but they were perfectly civil to each other in everyday life. I doubt they would care much for the American model of 3 days of immersive fun, though.

    • Jadzia

      I totally agree. The only thing I don’t like about Thanksgiving is the Oppression Olympics-style Internet drama (Facebook, I’m looking at you here) about Whose Family Is the Worst Ever. And I say that as somebody whose family of origin is almost completely estranged (albeit for reasons I don’t entirely understand). We’ve always just had our own Thanksgiving and invited people who don’t have a place to go–family too far away, international students, people who can’t go home for other reasons. And it’s always been delightful. Still, if my family was at all interested in Thanksgiving I would totally go, even though they can be… challenging. It’s tough to think about because my mom died last year.

      (This year the shoe is on the other foot and we are the people who don’t have someplace to go and no ability to be the hosts. I guess I got some good karma over the years because we actually got invited to somebody else’s house! The house of a conservative, religious, military family with political views that would probably blister the ears of many members of the commentariat. I am grateful for their invitation and am really looking forward to the evening.)

    • Linnaeus

      I see it from both ends, I guess. Some families are unpleasant to be around, or even toxic, and so I don’t think that people should feel that they have to sacrifice their mental health for the sake of family harmony. On the other hand, I do see value in a holiday gathering; this is especially important for me because 1) I live 2,000+ miles away from my family* and hence don’t see them on Thanksgiving (though I do visit during the December holidays) and 2) I live alone and mostly work from home, which means that I sometimes go multiple days without actually talking to a live human being of any sort, friend or not.

      I suppose it just boils down to whatever works for you.

      *While my family is far from ideal, no one is part of the Fox News set. Which is nice.

    • Noah S. McKinnon

      I get the feeling of atomization. Like Linnaeus, I live thousands of miles (and a major body of water or two) away from my family, I’m not overly financially gifted, and my wife’s family is more than able and willing to pay for us to go visit them – so I’ll see my in-laws way more than I’ve seen any of my own family this year. I have Fox News addicts in the family, but for the most part, among my family, arguing almost seems a sign of respect for the other person’s right to disagree. So I’ve been really lucky there.

      (I’m also cis and straight, but from my experience with my family, they’re exactly the kind of people who’d see the light once one of their relatives turned out to be anything other than cis and straight. Not that they’d ever admit that they were previously homo/transphobes . . .)

      Given the choice, the space, and perhaps the money, I’d rather host a Thanksgiving dinner for friends and others – but we’re actually the only people I know well who don’t have family in the area and also don’t have the money to travel to visit other family. Hence treating it like a couples day.

  • jim, some guy in iowa

    we kind of opted out of Thanksgiving as a Thing That Must Be Done a few years ago- if it works out what passes for the family can get together, fine- otherwise Christmas isn’t *that* far away

  • Karen24

    Spare some thoughts for those of us who actually love our parents, but who dread dealing with Fox Derangement Syndrome. My parents circa 1995 were normal, pleasant Clintonites. In those days, we would get together at my aunt and uncles — my mother had one sister — with my cousins, and usually my husband’s mother* would come with us. Great times.

    Since then, my uncle, aunt, and mother-in-law have died, my brother-in-law had a Jerry Springer Show-level divorce, my cousins moved to other states, and my parents started watching Fox News. My husband is a severe Type II diabetic, who gets extremely angry. My sons, however, are able to see the humor in the situation.

    At least there will be booze.

    *Before MIL died, she caught a virulent strain of Fox Derangement, compounded by my BiL’s nasty divorce and childrearing problems.

    • royko

      No kidding. All the talk about the effects of video games and rap music on kids and no one talks about how it can’t be healthy for a large segment of our elderly population to be absorbing all those frightening, brain-rotting messages.

    • StellaB

      My parents, happily, went the other way with the help of Mr. Clinton? It still weirds me out a little when my father gives me an article that he’s torn out of Mother Jones.

    • Rob in CT

      I’m not sure yet, but I actually think the death of my father recently has resulted in my mother watching less (or none) of Fox. This isn’t going to turn her into a Democrat, as she “hates taxes” (her words) and still gets wingnut emails. But I really think Fox is powerful propoganda, and dropping it might be healthy.

      We’ll see. I’m going to get her for Thanksgiving (she just had a knee replacement so she needs a ride). Fun times, ’cause my father in law is coming and he’s a STAUNCH Dem (portrait of Obama on his desk, and so forth).

      I don’t find the cooking hard. I’m the cook anyways… I like it. Turkey is easy. So are mashed potatoes and the rest of the fixins.

      edit: re: my father… it was sad, really. He was a Tory. Not a USian conservative. In his prime, he deeply distrusted US conservatives. Their religiosity freaked him out. But as he aged… more and more Fox. By the end, he was almost fully foxified. I really hate Ailes.

  • Denverite

    My spouse and children just left to drive to middle-of-nowhere Arkansas (her family member lives there). I’ll fly out Thanksgiving morning and drive back with them. Maybe. I hope. I’m insanely busy at work. (I’m about to be in TRO/PI hell on something where the government is fucking over a client, though at least it’s in the same court where I clerked, so there’s a decent chance I’ll get to appear before my old judge, which would be fun.)

    Anyway, we haven’t done Thanksgiving or Christmas with my family since there was a big fight between my spouse and sister, geez, the better part of a decade ago. There was lots of alcohol involved, and it ended with some low level violence. They’ve only been in the same room once since then (a funeral).

  • Quite Likely

    My instinct was to roll my eyes at people who can’t handle a dinner with their extended family, but then I remembered that a lot of folks probably have MUCH worse extended family problems than my relatively mild levels of craziness.

    • alex284

      There’s a difference between “can’t handle” and “don’t care for.” Not everything is a test of strength and bravery.

  • BethRich52

    I like the sound of butternut squash pie. Is it for real? Is there a recipe that can be shared?

    • Lee Rudolph

      I haven’t made an actual pumpkin pie in at least 30 (more likely 40) years, but I make squash pie (usually, these days, butternut) regularly, using (with my own adaptations) a reasonably standard recipe for pumpkin pie.

      My most recent permanent adaptation (in contrast to experiments that I end up not using much after the first time) is to substitute dry powdered milk most or all for the liquid (milk or cream) in the recipe. Since I cook the squash by microwaving it, it isn’t very damp anyway, but with powdered milk I can easily keep the custard as thick as I like it. (I also use the full complement of eggs from the recipe I’m adapting—Rex Stout’s, from his Nero Wolfe cookbook—namely 6 or 7 depending on the size of the pie pan; so the custard may be damper than other standard recipes.) My other adaptations that are still in rotation but not used every time are juice from fresh ginger root in place of powdered ginger, and powdered cardamom, for the spices, and date sugar (meaning, powdered dried dates) instead of brown sugar in the custard. Generally less of any kind of sugar than called for; I prefer most fruit pies to be less sweet than usual.

      For the crust, I use suet.

      • grishaxxx

        Some good advice in there – tho the thing I love the most is the Nero Wolfe provenance – Bravo!

    • Dennis Orphen

      Make a pumpkin pie from scratch, but substitute butternut squash for the pumpkin.

      • BethRich52

        Thanks everyone!

  • cpinva

    “(Based on some of the comments you all have shared, I must ask: Have you considered earplugs and some sort of face shield?)”

    no, the face shield makes it harder to drink the alcohol. I don’t like using a straw to drink liquor, it always strikes me as being an affectation. plus, it’s a dead giveaway. I support the alcohol with prescription narcotics. problem solved. and no, I don’t drive afterwards. what would be the point of studiously avoiding those noxious relatives, only to go kill myself on the road? none. fortunately, those noxious relatives are much older than I, and they are dying out. there is hope!

    a butternut squash pie sounds very tasty.

    • mds

      I don’t like using a straw to drink liquor

      Emergency induction port.

  • ajp

    Last year my wife and I got roped into making Thanksgiving dinner with my mother in law at her house (not criticizing my MIL here, she’s wonderful). And my wife’s side of the family is quite large. So we busted ass all day Thanksgiving to make dinner (the dangers of being known as the guy who “likes to cook”!) for almost two dozen people. To the guests’ credit, they helped clean up. But that’s a far cry from actually making the shit.

    Anyway, on my wife’s side, Thanksgiving is usually at her parents’ house since they have the biggest house in the family (and the family is big). So that means her MIL cooking virtually every year. And I’m not a freeloading asshole so I help her cook.

    But last year was the last fucking straw, for reasons I won’t recount in detail but boil down to ingratitude at our efforts. This year we’re ordering Thanksgiving dinner from Wegmans. And any cousin who’s got a problem with that is free to make dinner themselves. Or go pound sand. And they will be told that, to their face, if I so much as suspect they are even thinking of complaining.

    It’ll be at least a decade before I actually cook thanksgiving dinner again. It’s just too much work, and I ain’t busting my ass for everyone else to just show up at 5 and eat year in and year out.

  • Hogan

    The last few years we’ve made dinner and brought it to Mom-in-law, who is a lovely person and almost never talks politics or religion, or judges anything except how my wife cooks pancakes. (“Is the stove hot enough? Are you sure?”)

    In a few years we’ll probably have to start making our own Thanksgiving family with friends in the area. I did that many times before marriage. It’s a perfectly cromulent option.

  • Noah S. McKinnon

    My wife usually has the honor of working Valentine’s Day (retail), so we take Thanksgiving as our couples day. I get up early, prep a turkey breast Thomas Keller style (bone dry, tons of adobo inside and out, and roast for an hour on 450 without so much as breathing near the oven door), wife carves it, we work together on the mashed potatoes, yams and stuffing, and then we have lunch.


    This year we’re ordering Thanksgiving dinner from Wegmans.

    I’ve considered doing this more than once. Is it good stuff?

    • ajp

      As with all things Wegmans, it’s fantastic. It beats cooking.

      Alternatively, we’ve gotten a ham from Honeybaked Ham and made a couple of our favorite sides when it was just my wife and me.

      • Noah S. McKinnon

        Excellent. I may do the opposite of your idea and order the sides from them; the turkey is relatively little work and comes out tasting kind of like a pernil, so I’d like to keep doing that.

    • BlueLoom

      One year we bought T’gvg dinner from WP (Whole Paycheck). Huge disappointment. Sadly, no Wegman’s nearby.

  • StellaB

    You can just substitute squash pulp for pumpkin in your regular pie recipe. Canned “pumpkin” is really Hubbard squash. I like Kabocha, Red Kuri, and Marina di Chioggia for “pumpkin” pie.

  • NewishLawyer

    I wonder if there are psychological differences or just upbringing differences between the family by choice ethos or the family is family ethos.

  • mbxxxxxx

    “butternut squash pie”

    I am intimately familiar with this pie. Would recommend using normal pie crust not ginger snap.

    • But … That means I will have to eat this box of ginger snaps I just bought. O. Woe.

      Seriously though, thanks for the advice.

  • randy khan

    I highly recommend Thanksgiving with what I think of as intentional family – people you want to be with for one reason or another. My parents came when they were alive and my wife’s parents and youngest brother come, but the rest of the table always has been friends, mostly nearby, but occasionally from far away. Granted, we don’t have any wing nuts (BIL is a libertarian, but if you choose topics carefully, you can have interesting conversations and he’s not a shouter or curser in any event), but really the best part of it is that we’re with people we love.

  • STH

    After my father died a few years ago, my mother and sister decided to skip Thanksgiving. Partner and I started our own tradition, that we’ve followed since then–we do the buffet at the local Red Lion (partner gets all the roast beef and desserts he can stuff down, I get turkey and pumpkin pie, which he hates) with its lovely view of the Columbia River, then we take a long walk along said river, and come home to take a nap (last year, I put mulled wine in the slow cooker while we were out and that was so nice to come home to!) We get to eat our favorite things without the hassle of cooking them all, and we get a great walk, which nobody else in the family wants to do.

    I hate the way holidays have become (or maybe always were?) something that so many people dread because of all the social pressure and expectations. You must make all your presents! You must participate in cookie swaps! You must make nice with people who treat you like shit! I say decide what kind of holiday you want to have, who you want to have it with, and what activities you want to include, and then go do that. Fight for YOUR holiday spent YOUR way. Make it fun, or skip it entirely if you want to.

    Next year, we’re thinking of doing the Turkey Trot in Portland that goes through the Oregon Zoo. What kind of great holiday would that be?

  • Coconinoite

    It looks like we’re going to meet friends at one of the local casinos for their buffet (the casinos around Santa Fe and ABQ put on a pretty good spread).The SO is in OH taking care of his mom (who just had hip replacement surgery), and the kid’s dad is flying in from LA to stay here for visitation. I don’t want to deal with a horrid mess in the kitchen for three people, so we’ll go out. It’s a funky family situation (the kid’s dad and I started out rancorous after our split, but we’ve since mellowed – it’s all about the kid, right?), but better than driving or flying up to WA/ID to experience toxic relationships with a few family members who want to relive every bad experience in their lives, all clearly caused (jk) by a guy who’s now dead that they haven’t seen in 40 years anyway. There’s a reason I live at least three states away from any immediate family member – it takes a parent’s funeral to get up the gumption to be exposed to the level of hate spew emotion that my family dishes out.

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