Designing Thanksgiving

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One of the reasons I write is that I hardly ever say what I mean on the first try. I joke that I'm always five minutes away from success: five minutes after I talk to someone, I realize what I should have said.

The actual words that come out of parents' mouths when confronted by their kids about Santa aren't always artful or smart. They're hardly ever composed. Most parents fumble and stutter and say uh and like more than usual. They repeat themselves. They say uh and like more than usual...

But Santa talks are an opportunity for parents to explicitly say what it is they want their kids to understand about their holiday traditions by practicing it. Because the words are sometimes just out of reach--even for the best of us--the best way to pass on anything is to show rather than tell. Doing makes it attractive; telling is just promotion.

So, the Christmas traditions you'll be the most successful passing on are the ones you do joyfully. To be full of joy, you have to like what you do. You do, don't you? You like the holiday traditions you're trying to pass on, right?

I ask because, while interviewing adults for THE SANTA TALK, I ran into a lot of people with lukewarm feelings about the holidays. I realized how important it is to make the holidays what you want them to be--or at least closer to what you want. Traditions don't die because people love them. They die because people get stuck in a rut of sameness and, over time, they start to dread that sh**. Instead of fine tuning the holiday machine, somebody finally says enough is enough and scraps the whole thing.

Heading into this Thanksgiving, Lauren and I weren't totally sure where we stood on the holiday. We've spent eight or nine of them together now, but we've never actually talked about anything more than what our obligations for the day were. We like Thanksgiving fine, for the most part, but we'd just never actually talked about it.

Although things are extremely busy at work for both of us, I proposed taking some time this weekend to design our Thanksgiving in the same way I advocate designing Christmas in podcast 2 (Chapter One) of THE SANTA TALK.

It starts with asking ourselves what the holiday is about. Thanksgiving means ________. We had to figure out our blank. Thanksgiving is a celebration of what?

We came together pretty quickly on: -Gratitude. -Family. -Service to others. We were both relieved to find out that the other liked the holiday and that Thanksgiving meant roughly the same things to the both of us.

We try to stay informed about the broad strokes but we're pretty apolitical. Neither of us care about the historical underpinnings of the thing. Sorry, liberal arts education. Gotta pick my battles these days.

We celebrate gratitude, family, and being of service by doing ________.

Now we had to figure out our what. What do we do? This was trickier. What do you do with a day off when you could/should be doing some work so you don't get slammed come Monday? Forget all that, Lauren told me. "What makes you happy?"

Well, I like to go for a walk or jog in the morning and I like to go early. Great.

-We'll start the day with a walk after we wake up.

I want to eat healthy, too. I hate the the idea that I have to gorge myself on food I only really love the smell of. Also, the Thanksgiving menu is problematic since I stopped in eating meat a year and a half ago.

Lauren and I thought about it. We wondered what the risk/reward would be for bringing a dish or two of our own to the celebration. We made some inquiries with Lo's family. It turns out, bringing a dish is not only cool, it's welcomed. Less work for the cooks. We made a few calls around town. Joan's on Third and Whole Foods both sell damned good, ready-to-go food that we'd be proud to bring just about anywhere.

-After our walk, we'll drive to JoT or WF and pick up a vegetarian dish and a side. And we'll bring enough for everybody.

Service opportunities abound in our area, from answering phones at non-profits to collecting clothes for any of a dozen drives. This year, we thought we'd do something for a charity that's both meaningful and convenient (it's located on the way to our destination)--The Marine Mammal Center in San Pedro. This year has seen an explosion in the number of sick and starving sea lions washing ashore on California beaches. At various times over the past year, the MMC has had more animals in need urgent care than its facilities comfortably allow.

-On the same trip to get the food, we'll pick up some simple items the MMC is always in need of--vegetable oil and paper towels.

Now all we had to do was to confirm what time my future in-laws were hosting dinner, give some thought to the workload we each have, and the day was set.

We'll walk around the reservoir in the morning, pick up food and supplies, shower, drive to dinner, drive to the MMC, drop off our stuff, come home do some work. We are both really looking forward to this Thanksgiving! It won't go to plan. Things never do. But we can start the day joyfully and that makes all the difference.

What's that? Having kids makes your day harder to schedule?...

I have a friend named Roger who is fond of telling me that I "don't know sh** until I have kids of my own." Roger is referring to my schedule but mostly what he's referring to is my fear life (think dark side of fantasy life). I don't have the myriad fears that keep him up at night. I don't worry about what my kids might lose, what they won't get, if they're safe, if they are coping, if they will behave, if that cough is a chest cold or an infection, if they'll eat. I know how easy Lo and I have it when it comes to falling asleep and making plans.

We've all heard someone, at some point, say the words, "If I knew then what I know now..." Well, Roger, I know. I know how easy Lo and I have it, making plans for two. But I'd bet that any shape or size family can take at least a step toward designing their holiday. It doesn't have to be an overhaul. It can be a conversation over coffee that gets you all on the same page. Avoid fighting. Stay elastic. The holiday will be a little smoother.

Drive mindfully to your destinations. Happy Thanksgiving.