The calendar page has turned; it is November 1st. We stand at the threshold of the holiday season. Thanksgiving is a mere 3 weeks away and there are only 53 days until Christmas. Households are beginning to plan the what and wherefores of the season. To do lists are being made, budgets planned, menus are being decided upon, and children are plotting their Christmas wish lists. The stress level has begun to build as people envision the insurmountable mountain of food, gifts, and parties, and all of the work involved in preparing the perfect Thanksgiving and Christmas. November 1st marks the beginning of the deepening of worry lines, the pulling of hair, the raising of voices, and the rise in stress levels for what is considered to be the most wonderful time of the year.
I stand on the precipice of this torment with feelings of anticipation and excitement, mixed with a healthy dose of fear. I have weathered the holiday season every year unscathed because I have never been responsible for actually managing it. I have been a bystander, who has to deal with the stress of finding the perfect gift and navigating through the crowded stores, but I have never had to, gulp, cook a turkey dinner; and guess what, this year is my first year in making a turkey dinner for Thanksgiving. Whenever I think about this heavy responsibility my blood pressure goes through the roof and I break out in a cold sweat.
I can picture myself standing in my kitchen on Thanksgiving morning in total confusion. Where do I start, are there Venn diagrams and flow charts describing how to cook a turkey? How do I prepare the stuffing, and how the heck does it actually get stuffed into the bird? You expect me to do what with the gizzard? How exactly does one make mashed potatoes from scratch? Can’t I just use the kind that comes in the box? What makes cranberries red, and how do you get the red stains out of your clothes? What temperature does the oven need to be and, most importantly, how long do I cook the bird? How does one keep the cats from trying to scratch their way up my legs as they go frantic over the smell of fresh meat? How does one pry her boyfriend off of the couch and get him to stop watching the football games so he can actually help me!? How did my mother manage to do this every year, not once, but twice? Can I go cry quietly in the corner because I can’t take it anymore? These are the questions that flood my mind, and make me wholeheartedly regret my decision to try to cook a Thanksgiving dinner!
Then my true nightmare is that by sheer will and a major miracle I somehow succeed in cooking the turkey and all of its accouterments. I can’t vouch for the flavor, but they sure do look normal. The table has been set and everyone is sitting in anticipation of the meal. The star of the show, the turkey, sits there glistening on the carving board. I stand over it in pride with the carving knife ready to slice into it. As the knife oh so gently punctures the flesh all I hear is the release of hot air and watch in horror as the turkey deflates before my very eyes; the reason for this is the fact that my turkey has been cooked for too long at too high of a temperature (damn Goggle!). The turkey has become a dried out husk. The only thing that is holding it together are the bones, hot air and some sort of optical illusion from the other food dishes placed nearby, something with heat and light combined with seeing what one wants to see. We all stand there with looks of disbelief, staring at the deflated carcass of the pseudo-turkey. I then imagine the howls of horror from my family as they realize that we will not be eating turkey for dinner this year. Somebody quips, “Does anybody know if the pizza place is even open today?” This scene has become my nightmare, and I’m afraid that it could become a reality!
I’m not sure if these are the standard thoughts for someone who is hosting their first Thanksgiving, but I don’t think I’ll sleep a wink until the deed has been done. I am resolved to pull off the best Thanksgiving I can; I fear no turkey! I will conquer the challenge placed before me, with my mom’s help of course. I’ll be fine, right?! Should I be concerned about the nervous tick that has mysteriously appeared whenever I think about the holidays?
So as I stand here on November 1st during the quiet before the holiday storm, I am taking a moment to reflect on what I am thankful for because I know when I get mired down in the act of cooking I’ll probably forget why I decided to do it in the first place. The one thing I know that I am thankful for right at this moment is that Thanksgiving is still three weeks away. I am also grateful that I don’t have to cook for Christmas; my mom is shouldering that burden. For Christmas I’ll be able to resume my bystander role, and be there to offer a helping hand when needed. I am also thankful for my family, and the guidance that I hope, pray and beg, my mom will be providing as I wrestle with an eighteen pound turkey, they are after all why I decided to host Thanksgiving in the first place. So with recipes, advice, and “Here Comes Santa Claus” rattling around in my head, let the holiday stress, I mean season, commence!
Finally, and most importantly, I believe I know why we put ourselves through all of this stress and angst for the holidays. We do it out of love for our families and friends. We want to create a warm, wonderful and loving experience for those people who are dear to us. We are creating memories, smiles and laughter. The memories of seeing the surprise on someone’s face as they open their “perfect gift”, the warm feeling of love we have from being surrounded by our families and friends, and the smiles we will have in the years to come as we remember holiday seasons gone by. Ultimately, we fret and worry over the smallest detail because the holiday season is the one time of year when our homes, neighborhoods and communities all gather together in the common spirit of joy, humility and love. Thanksgiving and Christmas are truly the most wonderful time of the year, even if we do get more white hairs and stress lines for our efforts!