Cancel Christmas. Thanksgiving is all we need.
Last Christmas, I went full matriarch. My family of four ditched our Brooklyn apartment and headed to my dad's home in London, where, surrounded by dogs, children, and the technicolor tumbleweed that is discarded wrapping paper, I put on an apron and spent eight hours preparing a preposterous amount of food for 17 people. Afterward, shattered and convinced it had all gone disastrously, I fell in a heap on what I'm fairly certain were those same kids and dogs. Later, I gathered my people and resigned as the maker of our family's Christmas meal. No one objected and this year everyone's going to the pub for lunch.
At the height of Christmas 2018 chaos, I remember thinking how, just a month before, I'd spent Thanksgiving night drinking Prosecco in my friends' hot tub on their beautiful deck in upstate New York. I was nicely buzzed, effortlessly full, and my kids were asleep. It was eerily perfect. Now, post Christmas lunch fiasco, I was trying to separate my kindergartener from the war game she was playing on her uncle's new PS4 and mend the first LEGO set of a hysterical 4-year-old who'd eaten nothing but meringue nests and chips since 6:30 that morning. This was not festive fun. Compared to the Thanksgiving we'd just had — and the ones I plan on us having for years to come — this was a horror show.
Thanksgiving, with all its gift-free effortlessness, is truly something to behold. And when I say "effortlessness," that's not meant to take away from the wild amounts of wonderful food we've had prepared for us by generous friends over the eight years we've lived in the U.S. It just that, from my perspective as guest-slash-foreign interloper who is very much not the architect of the festivities, it is the most fun holiday there has ever been.
I'll admit, the fact I didn't grow up with Thanksgiving and that I've never had to cater one has allowed it to retain a childlike mysticism and joyfulness. Dec. 25 lost its magic as I grew up and had kids of my own. And now that my husband and I are in charge of the production, it's all about manufacturing thrills for our kids. Our own holiday joy is a by-product of theirs.
But despite the most recent mass catering catastrophe, I do still enjoy Christmas quite a bit. I like the smell of an indoor evergreen in the morning, and even that weird — and I'm sure mildly carcinogenic — cinnamon fragrance that's funneled into every American establishment from November onwards. I like the anticipation and the food, even if I am the one in charge of both.
Still, Christmas is a stressful holiday. Somehow, the tale of someone being birthed in a barn then gifted infant-inappropriate items by clueless royals has morphed into mayhem at Macy's and the Amazon Christmas catalog, which my kids think will be delivered in its entirety on Dec. 25. At Christmas, it's difficult to get away from the fact that it's underpinned by everyone buying everyone else stuff. Stuff that will likely be oohed over insincerely then promptly returned. Or put in a cupboard and forgotten about until the next Goodwill run.
So, what I'm most thankful for at this and every Thanksgiving (and I'm not a particularly thankful person) is the lack of gifting. It's such a relief.
And I'm thankful for the fact that embracing a celebration that belongs to another country has been so easy. I have no skin in the game and yet I was hooked on late November festivities immediately. I love how the black, green, and orange of Halloween gently morphs into Thanksgiving oranges and warming browns. I like the friendly scarecrows and the absurd gourds people keep outside their houses until they're rotted to the point of being a sanitation hazard.
And then there's the Thanksgiving food. These dishes, some of which don't really belong together — or even in the same cookbook — manage to merge beautifully. And as a parent of picky eaters, the emphasis on edibles is a chance to model to my kids that it is actually possible to eat a range of foods, at the same time, and enjoy them.
Beyond the pies and the things called casseroles that in no way resemble anything I grew up calling a casserole, I love that on Thanksgiving my children get to see that people can enjoy themselves without the exchange of goods of any kind.
Nearly a decade into the part of my life that has included Thanksgiving, I think I'd happily ditch Christmas altogether. Or at least combine it with Thanksgiving and be done with the obligatory December rush to buy stuff I won't have fully paid for until June.
In my fantasy merger of holidays, I'd allow some of the more benign Christmas elements to remain. The big sparkly tree, the movie Elf, and I suppose we'd have to find something for all the department store Santas to do now that I've effectively made them redundant. Of course, my kids would probably ask to be put up for adoption in a country that still celebrates Christmas if any of this actually happened. So I suppose it can stay, at least until I figure out how to make them love mash potatoes and hate getting presents.
I'm from a family of secular British Jews, most of whom do Christmas and Easter because they like sparkles and chocolate, and have incurable FOMO. So I suppose I'm used to going big on holidays that don't belong to me. But the great thing about Thanksgiving is that it belongs to everyone who wants in. And to an outsider, that makes it eclectic and bizarre and wondrous.
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