Give THANKS! / by LD

Well, pilgrims. As of yesterday, Holiday Season has officially started for me. Tonight we'll be packing up our bags and heading up to Lake Arrowhead for the big day, followed by an extended weekend in the Central Coast. Jody, Brett and I are in charge of appetizers so we opted to go with a Spanish theme: Spanish cheeses, flatbreads, sangria, etc. What Jody and Brett don't realize, of course, is that they're going to have to bind my arms and restrain my legs so I don't crawl over the seat and eat all that cheese on the way up. Extra sharp white cheddar, people! Could you hold back?

In other news, a couple of weeks ago I wrote an article about non-traditional Thanksgivings for Relevant Magazine. Unfortunately, the original underwent some fairly significant changes at the eleventh hour, therefore bearing little resemblance to my intended train of thought. C'est la vie! At any rate, you can read the article here. But I've decided to also publish my original draft below.

Happy Thanksgiving!

As far as Holidays go, Christmas is typically considered the unimpeachable juggernaut that flings the huddled masses into the welcoming arms of their respective families, willing or not, at least for a day or two. Of course, the terms of the homecoming and the welcoming may be items of contention for either or both parties involved, but speaking in generalities, Christmas has it in the bag. There are notable exceptions who prefer forging the Fjörds in Chile or pouring one out for Santa in a bar in Iceland on the blessed ‘morn, but those world-weary travelers are fewer and farther between than those who trudge to their nearest overcrowded airport for the inevitable journey home come December 23rd-ish.

Other Holidays, like the 4th of July, assume that in addition to the requisite bathing suit-and-beverage requirement, most members involved aren’t going to hightail it to to book a ticket anywhere other than the local Ralph’s for more Diet Coke and hot dog buns. The same could certainly be said for Halloween, Easter, and even New Years.

But what of the familial grey area that is Thanksgiving? Most of us spent our formative years unhappily relegated to the kid’s table but were thrilled nonetheless to pilfer the dark meat from the platter making its dutiful rounds. The ideas of family and Thanksgiving dinner seem as inextricably linked as turkey and tryptophan. But what happens when, almost immediately after graduating to the adult’s table, we find ourselves having graduated to a new phase of life – one that might take us hundreds or even thousands of miles away from our childhood homes, childhood friends, and childhood traditions? After all, Christmas is a scant month following Thanksgiving, and it’s commonly known that airfares are ever-so-conveniently through the roof during the holiday months. Is it a requirement to make the journey twice in one winter? What alternatives exist for the momentarily orphaned among us who find ourselves with no family within a 300-mile radius come November?

Many twenty-somethings find themselves unlikely Holiday-time misanthropes. Many have job commitments that negate the freedom that the four-day weekend misguidedly promises. Others simply live too far away to financially shoulder the cost of a plane ticket so close to Christmastime. For others still, Thanksgiving simply isn’t as prioritized in their families as it is in others. There’s no doubt that the non-traditional Thanksgiving away from home proliferates in circles where the median age is 25. Add to that the open and willful rebellion against the culture in which many of us were raised which dictates the ripe age to marry and start a family is nearly synonymous with being able to drink beer legally. Regardless of the list of reasons, which grows longer as the years wear on, twenty-somethings are increasingly pursuing a new kind of Thanksgiving with a new kind of purpose: Combine and conquer.

Instead of sitting around a table and explaining for the tenth time to Aunt K why you’re not currently dating anyone seriously, even at your age, Holiday-time faux-orphans are banding together with their fellow outsiders and blazing a different trail. There are national parks to explore, new cities to get lost in, unusual cuisines to consume. The boundaries of tradition and the constraints of the expected are being tested more in the first decade of the Aughts than ever before. Sure, there are still calls home wherein the phone, like the turkey, is passed around the table. After all, Christmas is just around the corner, so the pressure to cleave oneself with a family – any family – and retire post-dinner to that raucous football game is decidedly less constricting.

Modern Thanksgivings for the modern, rakish young gun involves giving thanks in the unlikeliest of places with the unlikeliest of people: A new kind of family. After all, there’s no longer an elephant in the room about the state of families and marriages today. It’s commonly accepted with resignation: They just don’t make ‘em like they used to. Increasingly the idea of a loving, familial unit is being extended to those who don’t share bloodlines or any particular lineage. Together, they’re rewriting what being thankful means, and how it is expressed in the third weekend of November.

While this marked departure from the family dinner table might seem to carry negative connotations, the argument would purport that it’s actually quite constructive. For many twenty-somethings – those who hail from happy families and those who don’t – Thanksgiving represents a chance to revel in time spent together with loved ones (not necessarily family), to participate in forming new traditions and new memories.

I have one such memory from my own very non-traditional Thanksgiving jaunts, which I hope serves to illustrate the myriad benefits of this turkey trend:

Cut to 2007, the Sunday after Thanksgiving. The 101 Freeway is already jammed with cars headed from whence they came. The 440-mile trek from San Francisco to Los Angeles is our Everest: Insurmountable, difficult, and did I mention we lost our yeti a few miles back? We inched forward, cranky and decidedly ungrateful for the unending ribbon of taillights unfurling in front of us. There were two cars in our caravan, and from the other car a phone call: It was Adam. His garbled suggestion was unpredictable at best but I affirmed his choice and hung up the phone. “We’re taking the Pacific Coast Highway the rest of the way,” I announced to my car.

It would take longer, and it would certainly be a more sinuously winding route than our current arrow-straight situation. But hours later as we hunkered down on the side of a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean while the sun dipped below the horizon, all was put into perspective. All around us, the redwoods gazed at the same frontier. The air was damp and earthy and smelled of the depths and fathoms churning below us. In that moment, turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie seemed a million miles away – but we were as thankful as modern pilgrims could be.