It’s November and for me, nothing symbolizes the month in more illustrious color than a bustling and festive Thanksgiving Dinner. It has always been my favorite holiday and I look forward to it all year long. I love that it doesn’t focus on frantically unwrapping presents- that the only gift being given and received is food. I love the chaos that comes from cramming many people together in a crazy pattern of tables set up in intricate ways in an effort to make the most efficient use of indoor space.
One of the accidental traditions we seem to adopt year after year is the surprise number of random guests who join the festivities. One Thanksgiving we included a handful of Taiwanese foreign exchange students from UCLA who were stuck on campus for the holiday. That happened to be the year our middle son was working on his 3rdgrade artist report and Thanksgiving provided the perfect tableau for recreating Norman Rockwell’s famous painting, Freedom From Want. All of a sudden someone yelled, “It’s time! It’s time! Take your seats!” and while my wife held the turkey, I posed along side her and a flurry of relatives quickly grabbed their pre-assigned positions to pose in perfect imitation of Rockwell’s painting. Those poor, confused Bruin students attempted to sit down, too, only to be thwarted by a relative who had already been assigned his part to play in the re-creation. I think we might have quickly tossed the camera to one of them to snap our picture but it all happened so fast, who can remember? All I know is for years I wondered what those nice kids told their relatives about how a typical American family celebrates Thanksgiving. Did they think this was what happened in every household or just ours? I imagine their confusion at subsequent parties wondering why other hosts didn’t insist on taking a highly orchestrated picture before allowing anyone actually to eat any food.
Our Thanksgiving Dinners are always fairly large because my wife and I were both born in Los Angeles and our extended families still live here, too. When we started hosting about a decade ago, both sides of the family came and the holiday has progressively grown a bit bigger. The core group has expanded to also include a few extra people and every year is different. There will usually be a few random relatives we don’t see too often or maybe my in-laws’ neighbors who would otherwise be alone. I think one year we had a friend of my sister-in-law’s boyfriend. No one should be alone on Thanksgiving and there’s always room for a few more at our house. Last year my brother called at the last minute to say a handful of singers from the Young Artists program he runs at L.A. Opera had no whereto go and could we invite them, too? Tables were rearranged and reset to accommodate the twelve or so extra guests. My brother whipped up a few extra pies and a grand time was had by all. We didn’t make them sing for their supper as it were but it was pretty special to be serenaded by some of L.A. Opera’s most talented young stars when they spontaneously broke into song after dessert. I don’t think any of us were expecting dinner and a show that night and it was definitely one to remember.
So, who knows how Thanksgiving2020 will look? I imagine significantly different than in previous years. We probably won’t have the Macy’s Day Parade to watch in the morning but imagine we’ll still be able to go on our annual pre-dinner hike. We will hopefully still have our close family members over to eat but not sure anyone in the high-risk category is willing to take the risk. And this maybe the first time ever when we’ll have to deny an invite to someone with nowhere else to go. Actually, pandemic or not, I can’t imagine that will ever be the case. In fact I could see us having everyone sit at individual TV tables with a single serving Hungry Man frozen turkey dinner before we would ever turn anyone away. But no doubt this year will be different than any other Thanksgiving. Possibly smaller, perhaps held outside, definitely masked and a greater selection of hand sanitizers at every table. We are prepared to be flexible and have an open heart and mind when it comes to Thanksgiving 2020 and acknowledge that “different” does not necessarily mean “bad.” As long as the turkey is tender, pies are plentiful and corn is creamy, everything will be right as rain (but please, no rain! Not while we’re eating outside!).