Thanksgiving is upon us, and if popular culture is to be believed, many parents and their adult children look forward to the holiday with a mix of pleasure and worry about how everyone will get along.For those still wavering about whether to head home for Thanksgiving (is my family the only group of procrastinators?) or – having agreed to go – are now dreading it, some words of advice: Go on, make the trip. Thanksgiving travel is a nightmare. But it’s worth suffering through. And, once you get there, bury the hatchet.
For some families, holidays are just another excuse to get together to eat good food and to have a good time. They’re not looking for articles like this one because they’ve somehow figured out the formula for successful family togetherness with minimum stress.
Sure, your brother-in-law brags too much, your sister whines, your dad is distant and your mom will spend the whole visit harping on you for your myriad shortcomings. But, don’t forget, they each have good sides as well. Putting up with them is always better than the alternative. And you can find ways to steer the conversation in order to make it a pleasant visit, offering real connection. But what if your Dad is on a crusade against public schools that teach evolution and you’re a public school history teacher? Or you run a coal company but your sister is a climate scientist. Or your brother-in-law has joined Jews for Jesus and wants your entire Jewish family to convert? Or your sister is running for Senate on an anti-gay platform, but you’re a lesbian? Even the Cheneys could patch things up for Thanksgiving – with some effort.
Just because it’s always been that way doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a lifetime of Thanksgivings where you just grin and go to your happy place until, thank goodness, it’s over! You can make a difference. You may even be able to start to enjoy your personal dysfunctional crowd.
You can never hear enough about what America was like a generation or two ago. Ask your parents what they remember of World War II. Or what stories were passed down to them about World War I. Ask them to re-tell your family’s immigration story, or what they heard about “the old country.” Ask how much a nickel could buy when they were young. You may learn a thing or two, they’ll appreciate your interest and you can laugh at the kids’ gaping jaws when they hear life existed before the invention of TV and Xbox.
After all, the first Thanksgiving brought together the Pilgrims and Native American tribes who hadn’t exactly been best buddies. Some Pilgrims had raided Native Americans’ food stores during those first miserable months, and there were plenty of other sources of tension. But, after surviving the first horrible winter (and losing many of their number), the Pilgrims had finally built shelter and – with significant help from the native tribes – learned to hunt and grow sufficient food. That first harvest was a success worth celebrating with a shared meal, and thanks were in order.