It’s complicated: Why I prefer to forget Thanksgiving
By Shawna Malvini Redden
Am I really being screamed at, literally screamed at, in front of the entire family?
This thought ran through my head as my then-fiance (now husband) and I grabbed the folding chairs we had just brought in and hurried through my father’s garage to the car whose engine hadn’t had a chance to cool off yet.
Screaming down the freeway from Placerville, it wasn’t until El Dorado Hills that I was able to speak without blubbering incoherently.
The holiday had started like any other for us, a whirlwind of visits—his sister’s, his mom and dad’s, my mom’s and then up to my dad’s. It wasn’t unusual for our Thanksgivings to include four turkey dinners over a few days (which is why I usually welcomed a roast or ham at Christmas) but this year, we were cramming in most of the celebrating into one long day (of indigestion).
By the time we got to my dad’s for dessert, I was ready to relax. But due to drama that’s best left to generalities at this point, a vicious argument ensued and we left—angry, bewildered, and me, bereft.
That was five years ago this Thanksgiving and the last time I saw my father.
Suffice to say: I have a complicated relationship with Thanksgiving.
Even from childhood, Thanksgiving set me brimming with anxiety as my divorced parents both declared it their favorite holiday. As any child of divorce knows, it’s difficult to negotiate holidays and accompanying emotional baggage. And I wanted to please everyone, feeling desperately guilty for having to alternate which parent would get me for the “real” Thanksgiving.
Into adulthood, this guilt would mean eating so many meals—heartily, I might add! I wouldn’t want dad to think I ate too much at mom’s or vice versa—that sour stomach became my norm from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. Without chagrin, I admit somewhat relishing my four years away at college when I couldn’t afford to come home for Turkey Day.
So it’s with unease that I approach the fifth anniversary of that Thanksgiving and really, the holiday in general. I like the idea of giving thanks. I love the idea of stuffing and gravy and pie and (all hail) green bean casserole. But I’m bittersweet about Thanksgiving and never surprised when I think ahead to Christmas where I can at least cover my historical family drama with tinsel and lights.
Although I will gratefully celebrate this week, I just wanted to say: To those for whom Thanksgiving isn’t completely a day of happy gratitude, I’m with you.