Being single is the perfect opportunity to create a Thanksgiving tradition of your own.
Illustration by Traci Daberko.
The holidays turn me into a curmudgeon. Now, that’s not my usual persona, even though the extra seasonal “help” offered by friends and family to this happily single person can grate (to put it nicely). Although a pragmatist, I do have a tender, even saccharine side. A sad story on the news or sentimental movie scene — chick flick or not — will get me teary eyed. And I choke up at the sight of reunions of long-lost lovers or pets and their owners. But the holidays … grrrr.
There is one exception — Thanksgiving. To my mind, Thanksgiving is the one holiday that no brilliant marketer has successfully commercialized and ruined. It still has a pure and simple message. The fourth Thursday in November is the one day of the year when we can look back and give genuine thanks for surviving whatever obstacles life has put in our paths — health issues, job hassles, crumbling relationships, bad haircuts, lost e-mails. We can consider our blessings in friendships, laughter, our talents, appreciation received and given — the large and small given to us in the past year. And we get to eat really great food — together.
When I was a kid, we always had the usual family turkey dinner around the dining room table. The table was maxed out with its inserts, wobbly card tables unevenly extended the ends and there were lots of folding chairs. In addition to friends with and without partners, we always had a houseful of “orphans” — foreign students, soldiers away from home, single people — joining our family. So when I finally settled down in Los Angeles after traveling the globe for many years, one of my first desires was to re-create that tradition.
The year was 1989. I was recently separated and in the process of an amicable divorce, and I had my own home, a 1910 California bungalow. My group of interesting, eclectic friends, most of them single, a few in couples, a few in small family groups, all seemed to be in the same boat — adrift without plans for the holiday. So I organized the first Thanksgiving for my family of friends.
To alleviate the pressure and expense of cooking, I decided to make it more like the first-ever Thanksgiving, with the hostess (me) providing El Turkomondo and everyone in attendance “filling in the blanks” to create the feast. The idea took off like a California wildfire. I made up a list of what we needed and let the participants choose or offer variations. As word spread, the excitement gained momentum. Friends were encouraged to invite other friends and the gathering grew. The only requirement was that these friends also bring something for the feast.
I realized that all of us had been longing for a way to connect and to celebrate our sense of family in this sprawling and often-impersonal metropolis of Los Angeles. Here was a way to recognize and practice tradition while confirming our spirit of independence, and it truly was a way to give thanks.
That very first time, Thanksgiving morning came and my kitchen was bustling. Nostalgic, mouthwatering perfumes of sautéed garlic, rosemary, roasting turkey and sweetly simmering onions filled the air, mingled with the spicy aromas of cinnamon and nutmeg. Funny how olfactory sensations can trigger memories, but they do. Laughter filled the house.
A fire flickered in the fireplace. Barefoot and in my sweats, I wiped my face on my apron and peeked into the living room. Friends who had arrived early to help were animatedly talking while they worked, and the folding tables were morphing from the ordinary to the sublime, with scattered autumn leaves, flowers and candles decorating a patchwork of table coverings.
Other guests started to arrive, bearing delicious food. In deep contrast to our rushed lives, everyone had taken great time and effort to bring something special, something carefully considered — home-baked bread, pumpkin pies still warm from the oven, roasted pork loin, Chinese long beans instead of the usual ones, artisan cheeses, unusual relishes, even a vegetarian “turkey.” Cooking for Thanksgiving is usually the task of one person — an exhausting job — but spreading out the duties meant that everyone could shine without too much exertion and still enjoy the day.
Finally, the turkey was ready. My U-shaped kitchen was filled with amazing dishes, and the 26 hungry people present at the first Thanksgiving Nation — including my ex-husband and a couple of ex-boyfriends — all lined up for the feast. With our plates filled, we were finally seated. We all had a lot to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving, not least for the opportunity to get together with friends we were often too busy to see during the year. It was good to have a moment of introspection, just a moment to pause, for all of us to acknowledge our blessings.
Since that first Thanksgiving, our group has gathered each year, sometimes at my home, sometimes at another friend’s. The gathering has grown to close to 50 people but has remained true to its original concept. We’ve seen children grow up and have families, friends move away, new friends join the group. But each year we meet — and pick up the threads of our friendships without a hitch. Even in this era of fast food, electronic connection and not much face-to-face, traditions can be made and maintained. Thanksgiving was the catalyst for us. I think this tradition is one that can indeed become a nation.
THE THANKSGIVING NATION SPEAKS
Linda Allen – Interior Designer from Hollywood, California
Participant since 1991
“Our Thanksgiving creates a family for people who don’t necessarily have a tradition of their own with their real family. We are all so busy with our lives, doing things on our own. So when we gather on this day, it’s because we want to be there — not because it’s a mandatory obligation. Our Thanksgiving takes the sense of family as step further.”
Jack Woolley – Computer Programmer from Agoura Hills
Participant since 1990
“What I enjoy about our Thanksgiving are the people from very different walks of life than my own. I’ve met an underwater welder, a carpenter who played the saw as a musical instrument, Italians visiting from Rome — a host of different lives. I enjoy the interaction because I get outside of my normal comfort zone.”
Sybilla Duncan – Executive Assistant
Participant since 1991
“What’s significant to me about our Thanksgiving is that I became an instant auntie to the children that were there and saw them grow up. Connecting through our yearly Thanksgiving has been a gift for all of us. A lot in our lives takes place out of sight, but the whole amazing spectrum of life comes together at our Thanksgiving dinner.”
Copyright © Marva Marrow/2015 Singular Communications, LLC.