“The holidays” is a phrase that is thrown around here from early October. This can mean anything from Chabad to Christmas to Halloween – if the speaker is under the age of 12.
Us Irish are familiar with the occasional “long weekend” or a cheeky Bank Holiday Monday, but over here there are an abundance of days, weeks and months of celebration, ranging from the historical to the obscure.
Next week is Thanksgiving. Last year, I had been in New York for about six weeks, had no furniture or money to speak of, my boyfriend had just gone back to Ireland after his first visit, and the “polar vortex” was beginning to take its toll.
Thanksgiving was nothing to us, a blip on the radar, a thing we had seen in movies and TV re-runs. So, naturally, we sat on the floor eating Oreos dipped in Skippy and cheered for the American Dream.
This year, I’m a weathered New Yorker with just the right amount of pedestrian road-rage, hatred for Times Square and an array of hilarious jokes about the G Train under my belt. I’m aware that everything is closing for a couple days and it’s almost Turkey Time and yes, I probably should stop hammering away at the Halloween candy in order to prepare for the incoming November feasting period.
However, I was not aware of the need for this thing that everyone refers to as “plans.” These plans have an enormous tendency to take place in locations such as “upstate” or “down south” which is usually met with a knowing nod or short laugh of recognition.
People are leaving me here. People are evacuating the city to go and eat giant meals at giant tables with their giant families, and little old me will be left to mope alone with a deli turkey bagel and the echoes of my neighbors’ joy.
Since when do I even care about Thanksgiving? It has categorically nothing to do with me, and I never even really knew what it was all about until I paid attention to that scene in the movie Stepmom. It seems the feeling of exclusion can be a powerful one, and I have suddenly developed an overwhelming urge to be involved.
Poaching American friends in the past few weeks has been difficult. Hint dropping is rife, and it seems that spare seats at the dining table are gold-dust. Everyone is holding their cards close to their chests, and it seems that American moms worldwide are wary of lonely immigrants attempting to hijack their cranberry sauce.
However, I am in luck! Not only is my friend Crissy perfect beyond compare, but her parents are creatures of otherworldly kindness and extraordinary generosity.
Not only are they coming from their gorgeous home in this mysterious “upstate” region to the abandoned streets of Brooklyn, but they are engineering a Thanksgiving dinner that is entirely devoted to the aforementioned lonely immigrants. God Bless America.
Oh, how I will be the envy of my Irish pals as they shiver among their piles of Oreos while I triumphantly munch on chestnut stuffing and Brussels sprouts. Winning is the whole point of this holiday, right?
So the dinner table will include my most wonderful friend, Crissy, her roommate, her roommate’s brother, another nameless orphan child, the parents, the boyfriend, and little old me.
The most magical part of this evening is not that Crissy’s family are Cuban, and we will be treated to the most delicious Cuban food known to man, but that this dinner is also the first time that her parents are to meet “the boyfriend.”
Similarly, an Irish friend of mine who has been here for a few years is being shipped off to Wisconsin for the holidays to meet his girlfriend’s entire family for the first time. What is the obsession with throwing our beloveds into the deep end like this?
I dragged my boyfriend to my cousin’s wedding back in April for the fun of it, which was very much a case of “Boy, meet everyone. Everyone, meet Boy.” However weddings are huge, no one really knows each other anyway, and most of your time is spent dancing and doing shots with the bridesmaids, so who cares if you’re with the bride or the groom anyway!?
Thanksgiving dinner – if it’s anything like Christmas dinner – is a whole other ball game. There is silence, sitting, chewing, swallowing, asking to pass the potatoes, dropping your fork, scraping your chair on the floor, spilling your wine across the table and accidentally setting your hair on fire. In that order.
There is small talk and chit chat and questions about where you went to school and where your family is from and what your fundamental moral and ethical codes are. A “grilling” or “interrogation” as I believe it is more fondly known.
I have a strong tendency to let my mouth just run away with itself, and when I’m around quiet people I compensate with a volume and speed of “chit chat” that could be considered endearing or unbearable depending on the table’s levels of inebriation. The pressure of something like this would drive me to power through at least nine bottles of wine before hurriedly offering to help clear up and inevitably dropping and smashing 4,000 irreplaceable plates. So I avoid it at all costs.
However, I have served as a “buffer” before, which is something similar to this impending Thanksgiving soiree. This is a far more enjoyable experience where the lady introducing her man-friend to her parents invites a “friend” (me) to dinner too, to bring a familiar face and some hilarious and engaging conversation to the table.
As there is no pressure on me to impress her parents, who already know me as her slightly insane and potentially alcoholic amigo, I will be free to include her suitor in my tales and tell witty anecdotes to fill any silences. I will forever tell myself that it makes the experience far more enjoyable for everyone involved.
I have high hopes for this Thanksgiving dinner, and as this one includes four buffers, the enjoyment factor will be immeasurable. And, if all goes according to plan, she’ll be giving thanks and “go raibh mile”s right up until the wedding.