Feasting with aliens, and more family fun

Posted: November 27, 2003

Let us give thanks that today is Thanksgiving and not Christmas, which started back on Columbus Day and goes into overdrive at precisely 12:01 a.m. tomorrow.

Let us offer praise for turkey and gravy and pies, glorious pies, cranberries in all incarnations, and stuffing, marvelous stuffing, and candy corn and pies - did we mention pies? - and, lest we forget, the miracle of the elastic waistband.

This is a great and glorious holiday because it is, by design, one of peace and harmony and reflection and rest, with impromptu naps induced by the grand fowl's tryptophan, parades, the Lions game, and an uncle's endless prattle about the way Life Ought to Be.

Christmas is about stuff. Today is about stuffing.

For many Americans, Thanksgiving has blessedly little to do with money. It has everything to do with control.

Families are uniquely designed to break down at the slightest whiff of dissension. In the Space-Time-Angst continuum, families can find almost anything to argue about - or not - but get angry about anyway. This is a day of rest from work but not from families, who breed a kind of stress all their own.

Home Playing Field Advantage. The "my house vs. their house" holiday rivalry is as old as the interstate highway system. The odds of overall happiness generally tilt in favor of the host family, which benefits by sleeping late in their own beds and not doing time on the turnpike. In general, this offsets the outlay of labor, stress and turkey grease. All bets are off, though, if the guests are many and traffic heavily in guilt. Which leads us to . . .

Holiday Food Fight Dysfunction. Food issues are the final frontier of the passive-aggressive. Honestly, if they were more aggressive, they'd fight over big issues. Like whom Mom loves best. HFFD assumes various forms:

1. Young people turning vegan overnight and without giving advance notice because, hey, what's the fun in that?

2. Size-4, perpetually dieting relatives who bring their own food while ignoring dinner, except to note, "Oooh, this is more fat than I've consumed all year" or "I didn't know people still ate that."

3. Potential in-laws wishing to impress by bringing something wholly inappropriate to the table. Like the turkey. Which brings us to . . .

When Family Traditions Collide. As Tolstoy wrote, all unhappy families are wifty in their own ways, even happy ones. Or maybe it was Jerry Seinfeld. When couples merge, so do two families, each mired in loopy yet ironclad traditions. Like enduring the Detroit Lions game when no one cares. Or going out for a huge dinner Wednesday night. Or gathering five hours before the meal. Or drinking bad wine. Or serving no wine at all. Which is a byproduct of . . .

Aliens Among Us Seasonal Disorder. This is when you discover that though Thanksgiving is the best holiday, you have to share it with an alien - that is, someone who's nothing like you, someone you would never know except your sibling/cousin/parent married them, someone you suspect is there solely to make your holiday less the way you would like it to be. There is nothing one can do to escape AAUSD. Each family contains one alien. Large families include three. Large dysfunctional families consist entirely of aliens. And you.

That is why we stuff our faces - so we don't need to talk on this glorious holiday. We watch football so we don't have to listen to an uncle's endless chatter about the way Life Ought to Be.

So we give thanks because while families can be strange and wondrous and full of aliens, no one has really come up with anything better.

Contact staff writer Karen Heller at 215-854-2586 or kheller@phillynews.com.

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