Sunday, November 6, 2011

Christmas vs. Thanksgiving...You Be The Judge

November is here. That means that the days are getting shorter and colder, and that the Holiday season will soon be upon us with all of its frenzied list making and doomed expectations. Thanksgiving and Christmas, separated by 31 calendar days and roughly $5,000 in out of pocket expenses. Let me now compare and contrast these two memory filled days.

Thanksgiving is uniquely American. We all know its Pilgrim roots. We all know the menu. We all know of the football games, and the Macy parade. As a man, I readily admit that it’s the perfect holiday, and I totally understand why Grandmothers, Mothers, Sisters and Daughters might not be equally enthusiastic. That’s why I capitalized each of them, as a measure of my undying respect for all that they do to maintain the culinary tradition, and with the sincere hope that they never rise up and throw off the chains that have bound them to the stove on this blessed day for now some 300 years. When I was a teenager, the day would start with squirrel hunting with my best friend Al. He was a slightly better shot but mostly the squirrels were safe from our inept. 22 rifles. Now the day usually starts with leaf raking or other outdoor chores with my kids, who aren’t actually kids anymore, but who are actually both home for a change, so I get to pretend that they are kids. Around noon, we load up in the car and head over to Nanny and Papa’s place. On the way, we all sing, “Over the river and through the woods”, and since it’s MY family, we do so in 4 part harmony. Then Pam officially rings in the season with the first playing of the Carpenters Christmas album or the velvet tones of Nat King Cole. Our kids not only know every word, but in Patrick’s case, each orchestral flourish. I listen to virtually the exact same family banter each and every year on this 20 minute drive and each and every year I discover the closest thing to perfect peace that I have ever known.

There are usually 20 people or so at Thanksgiving, although that number has been on the rise gradually over the years with the addition of newborns and boyfriends. At some point it will become a logistical nightmare. Who am I kidding? It’s a logistical nightmare already, but that’s a problem for the women to figure out. Meanwhile, its time for a football game. The players are ready, the team captains are my brother Donnie and me. Ryan keeps all the stats and can tell you how many catches he had in 2009’s classic come-from-behind victory for Donnie’s Dominators. I counter with the observation that statistics are for LOSERS, and besides, if we had real referees in that game Doug’s Destroyers would have won easily. After my team wins when Patrick jukes Ryan out of his gigantic shoes for the winning touchdown, it’s time to gather around the table. In our family, the table is a thing of beauty with no small amount of artistic flair. There are brightly colored leaves sprinkled randomly on the white table cloth. There are a couple of cornucopia horns of plenty. There are usually a few tacky turkey statues round about, as if THEY had anything to be thankful for. And then there are the place cards. Yes, no Dunnevant/Schwartz/Roop event can be complete without a seating chart. Luckily, this feature is a matter of organization, not politics, since we have no continual grudges to message in our family. We all sorta get along. It’s truly remarkable . I try to manipulate the chart to get a seat near the middle of the table so as to insure access to hot rolls. There is turkey and ham, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes with gravy, green beans, corn(or what the Indians called “maze”). There’s also the dreaded and misconceived corn pudding, the title alone being clear warning of the dangers lurking in such an ill-named dish. There’s sweet tea, water, and coffee. After this heavenly dining experience, we linger at the table in groups of 5 or 6 talking and laughing. We eventually make our way to the large flip-chart easel labeled, “What I’m Thankful For In 2011”. I look at what others have written and see words like “job”, “family”, “healing”, “husband”, “wife”. I pick up the marker and write something. What I should write is, “I’m thankful for the beauty and simplicity of gratitude and how easy it is to express on this wonderful day.”

Christmas is uniquely pagan. Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate everything about Christmas. Parts of it are quite endearing. Putting up the tree and the grand illumination. Our Christmas eve traditions, Christmas Pajamas, reading the Night Before Christmas, putting out the cookies for Santa and the carrots for his reindeer. Going to the candlelight Christmas Eve service at Grove and then to Outback for dinner... all wonderful memories. But, before we can get to that part there’s the list making, the name drawing, the family Christmas website ( don’t ask!!). Then there’s the frustration with the crappy lists, or those family members who wait until the last minute to even make a list and when they do the only thing they put on it is “socks”. I mean, can we at least get a color? Would it kill you to give us some hint of whether you prefer brown, black or blue?? Seriously, “socks” isn’t very specific. Do you want the wool kind that start to sag down around the ankles after two trips through the washing machine, or the kind made out of that stretchy nylon which bite into your shins until they actually leave marks by the end of the day? It’s not just the socks or the lists for that matter, it’s the relentless pursuit required to get it all done in time. Christmas has morphed into a vital monetary injection required to sustain our economic way of life. If suddenly, Americans all decided to divorce the Saviors birth from the buying and exchange of gifts, our economy would be plunged into a depression that would make the 1930’s look like child’s play. Whenever I have cautiously broached even the vague concept of such a thing to our family, I am called unflattering names comparing me to everyone from Ebenezer Scrooge to King Herod. So each year the fruit of our collective labors is all hauled from our loaded cars into the largest room we can find. Each family takes 30 minutes to distribute their pile into the appropriate chair in the ever expanding circle of death that surrounds the largess. Then for the next 6 hours we all enjoy the joy and childlike wonder of watching each family member open each of their presents one by one. Yes, nothing says, “Lets Keep Christ In Christmas”, quite like 6 hours of materialistic glee. Only , the glee part is over usually around the 2 hour and 15 minute mark, when several of the men have nodded off, others are in deep whispered conversations about how they are “never going to do this again”, and everyone else is trying earnestly to look thrilled that the lovely scarf that Jenny just opened goes perfectly with the dress that she almost bought last week while shopping for the Christmas present for Sylvia that she couldn’t find this morning to save her life. Feliz Navidad.

It has been said, by me I think, that Thanksgiving is everything Christmas is supposed to be because there are no presents to gum up the works. I stand by the simple wisdom of that statement.