Thanksgiving Thoughts

Yesterday’s Washington Post had an article on the front page about people who prefer to celebrate Thanksgiving with friends instead of family. The article was mostly a fluff piece but part of it bugged me enough to want to post about here. Putting aside why the idea of a “Friendsgiving” is news-worthy enough to be on the front page of the A section, the part that bothered me is summed up in this quote:

She is among those who ardently believe in the superiority of a Thanksgiving spent with friends. Benefits: no travel, no drama and the ability to sleep in your own bed, assuming that you don’t pass out on your buddy’s couch. It’s not that Friendsgiving advocates aren’t thankful for family. They definitely are. Just, you know, from a distance.
“There’s something to be said for friends being the family you choose, as cliche as that statement is,” says Alexander, now 31. “You get to be with people you actually want to be around and aren’t just obligated to be around — crazy aunts and uncles and brothers you might not get along with.” (emphasis mine)

What bugged me about this was the underlying assumption that what we should primarily consider on Thanksgiving (or any day) is our own happiness/comfort/satisfaction. Why deal with crazy uncles and brothers who you don’t like? Instead, make your own family. Find your own happiness. I see this attitude extend to other settings. Why stay at a church with that bossy director of ministries? Why stay at a church that doesn’t have the programs I want? The church down the street makes me happier: it offers a thousand different Sunday school classes and kid’s programs and has Starbucks in the narthex. Why deal with my spouse who isn’t so fun anymore after 20 years of marriage? I don’t feel happy. That guy in my yoga class makes me happy because he listens to me and makes me feel good. ( Just to be clear: I haven’t been married 20 years, have never taken yoga and my spouse is still quite fun.) Maybe this seems like a big jump: from Friendsgiving to adultery. But I think the underlying attitude is the same.

I’d argue that there are two good reasons for putting up with Crazy Aunt Lucy or Annoying Choir Director Bertha. First, is that maybe it doesn’t make you happy but it makes them happy. Yes, maybe your Grandma’s store bought pumpkin pie with Cool Whip isn’t the Pinterest-worthy gourmet concoction that your friend Elsa can make. But Grandma is awfully proud of her contribution. Maybe it is more boring to listen to Uncle Jim and Aunt Betty tell about their trip to the Grand Canyon for the eighth year in a row and you would rather be part of a raging party where 20something and 30something hipsters watch retro movies all night long. But Uncle Jim and Aunt Betty love you and look forward to having someone to listen to them.

The second reason is that sometimes it’s good for us to learn how to love the unloveable. It’s pretty easy to be thankful sitting at a table full of cool kids just like us. It’s a bit harder to do that sitting next to Uncle Bob who is just dying to tell you why your political party is the wrong one. Or when your teenage niece won’t stop texting during the prayer. When we only love those who are like us and who are easy to love, we take the easy way and we ultimately lose out. Taking one day a year to play Charades with all your crazy relatives is not going to kill you. Boredom or a lack of fun never actually hurt anyone.

Two caveats. First, I do understand that some people aren’t able to be with family on the holidays. It’s too far too travel or too expensive or perhaps, there are deep serious unresolved issues. I’m not talking about that here. We invite friends to our Thanksgiving and are glad when they can come. I think it’s great to have a community of friends around you, especially at the holidays. It was the idea in the article that friends are better (and why) that bugged me. Second, I should say that none of the examples above are my family. I have no Uncle Bob or Aunt Betty or Crazy Aunt Lucy. My family, if they are reading, are of course perfect in every way and would never be annoying in any way. Whew.

So, this Thanksgiving I say, be thankful for your family. Even all the crazy aunts and uncles and siblings who you don’t really get along with. Spend the day thinking about how to make them happy instead of wishing that they would make you happier. Surprise your brother by smiling at his dumb jokes. Humor your aunt by agreeing that her weird Jello salad is “really interesting”. Take a walk with your uncle even though he insists on wearing a turkey hat and saying hello to everyone you see. Embrace the weirdness and awkwardness and craziness. Maybe it will even be fun.

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