I don’t know how everyone else came up with it, but when I turned to L and said “wait, we could spread our favorite Thanksgiving foods out over the entire weekend,” I honestly thought it was an original idea.
It was still a very good idea, in the same way that shifting our lives from a clock-based schedule to “things take the time they take” was a very good idea. Instead of trying to fit fourteen side dishes into a single meal, we had… well, I guess we had four. Three, if pie counts as a dessert and not a side.
So it was turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans and bacon, fresh cranberry relish, and pumpkin pie on Thursday; leftovers on Friday; beet salad with oranges and walnuts and goat cheese on Saturday; and more leftovers plus fresh cornbread dressing (using Kamala Harris’s recipe) and chess pie on Sunday.
This also gave us the opportunity to improve our cooking skills as we went along; the chess pie was significantly better than the pumpkin pie because our first pie crust came out soggy and we made it our goal to make our second pie crust as perfect as possible (turns out you’re supposed to chill the crust before you put the pie filling in, who knew).
There are two points to this story.
The first is that I hope this tradition of “spreading out the Thanksgiving foods over the entire weekend” sticks, for as many people as possible who enjoyed it as much as we did. I understand why it might not; the reason you have fourteen side dishes in a single meal is because some of the people you want around your table at Thanksgiving can only be there for a single meal — and because everyone wants to cook and/or eat their favorite Thanksgiving food, so you might as well make ’em all.
But if you also divided your Thanksgiving meal into multiple days, did you also notice how pleasant it was? To be able to focus your attention on a few treats and experience them thoroughly? To leave the meal feeling satisfied, not stuffed? To cook a bit here, and a bit there, and make the second pie better than the first one?
The second point — rather like the second pie — is that our first Thanksgiving together helped us figure out how to spend our first Christmas together, and BOY HOWDY was I worried about Christmas.
I actually wrote a song about it, which I sang to L as we were cleaning up the dishes after dinner on Friday. (It has a tune, but it’s enough like “When You Come Home to Me” from The Last Five Years that you can go ahead and substitute that one.)
When I have someone of my own
I won’t have to sit in the most uncomfortable chair
We’ll be able to sit together on the couch because we’re new
And my sister will have to sit on the chair (because somebody will have to…)
When I have someone of my own
They’ll send us a box of Christmas treats from Harry & David
Because only couples get boxes of treats from Harry & David
And single women have to wait for someone to share (and they never do…)
“Ah, the fifth wheel song,” L said. “I’ve sung that song before.”
“No, wait,” I said. “There’s a bridge. It’s the important part.”
And he will buy me
Everything that’s shiny
All the gifts that no one ever gives a daughter or a sister or an aunt…
I have been, if you’ll forgive me mentioning it, a little demanding about Christmas. It is not only our first Christmas together, but also my first Christmas with a partner and the first Christmas I’ve ever spent in a for-real house, not a group house with roommates or a studio apartment with no kitchen where you have to wash your dishes in a bus tub and dump the dirty dishwater in the toilet. (True story.)
So L started our Christmas planning by saying “You know I’m not really into presents or stuff, I’d rather have us spend Christmas Day having a good time than opening a bunch of gifts, and most people our age buy ourselves everything we want anyway,” and I countered with “Look, you can do as you like, but there will be a box of pears wrapped in gold foil and a tin of peppermint bark and some very expensive chocolate truffles, and you already know that there is exactly one gift I want you to buy for me which is a snow globe that is also a music box and inside the snow globe there are little houses that light up and a train that moves through a tunnel, and that’s fine, I’ll buy everything else I want myself.”
And the next day I said “I’ve started buying all the stuff I want for Christmas, I will surprise you with it soon,” and the day after that I started crying because we were doing it all wrong.
L had said that I should go ahead and buy myself everything that delighted me, but I wasn’t delighted. Turns out — and this is the plot of basically every Christmas movie ever, so spoiler alert — getting everything you’d ever wanted isn’t any good if you don’t have someone to share it with.
Especially if the person you want to share it with lives in your house.
Of course, I was also crying because I assumed that I’d have to send all of the stuff back. The matching holiday pajamas, the Advent calendar shaped like an Alpine village (that lights up), the commemorative Mary Poppins Living Magic Sketchbook Ornament (that is also a music box). Our Christmas would be devoid of kitsch and glitter, with nothing to do but play chess and listen to music, like we already do all the time — and sure, eventually we’d eat a ham or something, even though I told L that the whole concept of a once-a-year holiday meal was just as much “stuff” as anything they sold on The Bradford Exchange (and he agreed with me).
And then the miracle happened.
The stuff started showing up, right about the time we began turning Thanksgiving from a single-day stress-fest into a four-day, “things take as long as they take” celebration.
The boxes I had bought were instantly less interesting than the pies we were making together or the cornbread dressing we were baking together or the freshly-killed Christmas tree we were driving out to the tree farm for and then dragging into the house together. It was clear, to both of us, what the true meaning of our two-month-long winter holiday season would be: Making things together. Like we already do, all the time.
But the stuff was not worthless. We put on glittery holiday hats when we did the big family Zoom on Saturday, and we kept the hats on when we started decorating the house on Sunday, and when the matching jammies arrived we both knew that it would be more fun to do whatever it was we would end up doing while wearing matching holiday pajamas.
One of those things, as it turns out, will be “making origami ornaments.” L suggested it, and it was instantly more interesting than the Disney Magic Sketchbook Living Movie Characters Also a Music Box thing I had purchased, but would we have come up with the idea of making our own ornaments if I hadn’t said “hey, ornaments are important?”
(Maybe we would have. But let me have my miracle.)
And then — and here it is, the surprise third point of this whole story, the way The Gift of the Magi could have gone if O. Henry hadn’t been a candy bar — after we had this lovely Thanksgiving weekend in which we made food and brought in a tree and visited with family and created a holiday together while occasionally wearing themed clothing, I came down the stairs the next morning and said “Hey, I don’t want to buy the giant tower of treats from Harry & David anymore. What if we learned how to make our own peppermint bark instead?”
And later that afternoon L said “Hey, I think I’ve got something that you’d really like. It’s this old box of holiday decorations that I’ve never done anything with because I never had a home I wanted to decorate before. Do you want to see what’s inside?”
There were scented candles and ceramic snowpeople and so many reflective surfaces — but the first thing I pulled out of the box was your typical Norman Rockwell-esque Santa sculpture, Saint Nicholas and His Sleigh, by which I mean it was delightful. Especially when I turned it over and wound up the key at the bottom.
“Did you know it was also a music box?”
“Wow,” L said. “I never thought to look.”