A family floor picnic
We were never dining room kind of people. For years, I thought it was a before-its-time minimalist museum, boasting its sole piece of art: the table, complete with expansion wings for an extended family that would never sit at it, lit for display by its own personal chandelier. Very Andy Warhol. Surely, we must have ventured into the dining room for a dinner deemed fancy enough to risk the carpet stains, though I don’t recall this time in my childhood, nor are there pictures to prove its occurrence. Early memories of Thanksgiving are not of that room. They are of a blanket on the floor for a turkey day picnic. Floor picnics always felt intimate and novel and a bit naughty, and they were endlessly fun. Perhaps this is why the pomp and circumstance of the holiday is a bit lost on me.
As the years rolled forward, we moved farther and farther from the dining room table. We would meet my parents’ friends at a buffet, where my dad and I would wear full Native American costumes — something that surely would be frowned upon by many as being insensitive cultural appropriation today and was most definitely offensive to some back then, but we hadn’t a clue. When the restaurant closed — in no part because of discrimination lawsuits brought on by our attire, I hope — we began spending the day at another family friend’s house. We did this for years, until a fight I had with the host over an episode of “Friends” led me to make a very dramatic proclamation that I was never going back to that house. My parents could go if they chose, but I would be having Thanksgiving at home.
The next year was the first Thanksgiving I recall having in the dining room. As a teenager, it was both a shock and empowering that my parents opted to let me win that round. (Clearly, they must have secretly taken my side in the great “Friends” debate.) For the first time in my memory, my parents took on the arduous task of cooking a massive meal for our little family. To date, it is tied for first place as my favorite meal I’ve ever had at that table. The second was just two years ago, when my brother, my cousins and all of our babies, despite terrifying illnesses and great distances, came together to eat and drink and give thanks.
College soon followed, and because of my distance from home, I would spend the long weekend at the house of a friend who lived closer. It’s when I had my first Lebanese Thanksgiving — gold medal winner for the most delicious holiday meal. It was my introduction to Friendsgiving, in a dormitory filled with Oscar Mayer turkey cold cuts and ramen noodles — gold medal winner for worst holiday meal I’ve ever had. Then there was travel. In New Zealand, the only other American and I made a feast for the whole hostel. It’s amazing how much poor cooking skills are forgiven by hungry backpackers. And then there was the restaurant in Italy that lured in traveling Americans with a cheap Thanksgiving menu but charged us 2 euros for every bread roll we ate from the basket sitting on the table.
Through all of this — the good, the bad and the prime-time-TV screaming matches — one word has always been missing from my personal descriptions of the holiday: tradition. I have my own young family now and an opportunity to make Thanksgiving a day my kids will remember. There is something daunting about creating a tradition when you have none to pull from yourself. Do I make a turkey despite being a vegetarian? Do I set a full fancy table with eight courses like my beautiful Lebanese friends, who were still eagerly waiting to become citizens?
Perhaps in all the lack, there is one tradition I can pull from. My husband and I turned our formal dining room into a library. We were never dining room kind of people anyway. There is no fine china. There are no fancy utensils or precious stemware. There are two rambunctious kids, and of course, there is the floor, along with plenty of blankets to put down on it for a picnic. A celebration of thanks that is intimate, novel, a bit naughty and endlessly fun sounds like a good place to start a tradition.
Katiedid Langrock is author of the book “Stop Farting in the Pyramids,” available at http://www.creators.com/books/stop-farting-in-the-pyramids.