Q: My wife and I have extended family coming over for the Thanksgiving Holiday. Most of them I get along with just fine, but not all of them. Any thoughts on how to best manage the day?
A: First and foremost my hat is off to you and your wife that in spite of some family unease you are opening your home and celebrating the Holiday together. If they all don’t give you credit for your willingness, make sure you both toast each other and give yourself acknowledgment for playing equal pars Holiday Host and Family referee perhaps.
I think that on some level we all have this Normal Rockwell picture in our minds eye of what the Thanksgiving experience is supposed to resemble and I don’t need to tell you that it rarely, if ever, looks quite so quaint and charming. I personally feel privileged to say that for many years, when my grandmother was still alive, I was fortunate enough to experience this Holiday as I believe it was meant to be. Family members gathered together and regardless of different personalities and walks of life we shared a connectedness and celebrated it together on that day. Since she has passed, the wheels have fallen off the cart of custom and tradition as it were and we have descended into nothing short of pure, unadulterated dysfunction. I share this because it has made me realize that every family needs a leader and in many cases a hero. A strong force to guide, encourage and expect the best out of each and every one of us. It’s as though that person provides the compass bearing that we all are guided by and drawn toward at this time of year. We look to them and their vision and desire of what can and should be and it gives us what we all crave. A sense of warmth and connectedness.
There are ALWAYS going to be those moments when family finds themselves thrust into each other’s company at this time of year and we end up inwardly stupefied at how it could possibly be that we share genetic material with “these people.” So knowing that some weird uncle or sulking Goth obsessed teenager is a given in every family equation, my question is whether or not you and your wife feel up to taking on the challenge of being that rallying point, that example, that force that upholds custom, tradition and the inescapable value of family bonds. If you are up to the task my hat is off to you both. The world needs more brave souls like you. But if you’d rather just provide the space, the ovens and the kiddie table than the rallying cry for your entire clan, then keep in mind that it is just a single day. And we can put up with anything for a day. This is not the time to engage with your surly brother-in-law or your endlessly complaining cousin. If you have family members that want to call attention to themselves by sulking in the corner or looking for conflict, do your best to act pleasant and like a grown-up even if it means seeming oblivious to their nonsense.
So it’s one of two things in mind. Either choose to be that source of strength, belief and certainty or fly a Swiss flag on your front porch and just be a neutral zone for everyone to gather in for the day. Whichever you choose, you’re doing a wonderful thing and I believe you are to be commended for it. And if all else fails, there’s nothing like some really strong eggnog to help the situation along. Especially if your goal is not to remember the entire sordid experience the next morning J Bottom line whether you choose A or B, keep a sense of humor and continue to set the example whether you think anyone is watching or not.