I thought it would be fun to write a seasonal Thanksgiving article. You know—How to Save Money on Your Thanksgiving Menu! or something like that. But I cannot write that article for you, or anything remotely like it.
I have a confession to make.
Are you ready?
I spend $500 a year on Thanksgiving.
The worst Thanksgiving
I went to college a thousand miles away from my home town. Like many do, my college closed down its entire campus for the Thanksgiving break. A single floor in our smallest dorm was made available for students who couldn’t go home, and we were all obliged to work multiple desk shifts to check these dozen people in and out. It was a real Harry-Potter-forced-to-spend-Christmas-at-Hogwarts situation, except suckier in the way that the real world is suckier. Scrumptious faculty dinners replaced with pervasive loneliness and unpaid clerical work.
I was one of those students. Flights to my tiny rural hometown were expensive, but that was only part of it. My home life was complicated and painful. I was enjoying moving forward in my new city. I didn’t want to go back.
So I spent Thanksgiving alone that year. The dorm kitchen was shut off, and no restaurants were open, so I ate cold Chinese food from the night before. I ate it alone, sitting at a dormitory desk in an unfamiliar room, facing the painted cinderblock wall.
I don’t think I need to tell you that it felt distinctly, um, not good.
The best Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is the best American holiday. Wake up, you Christmas-loving sheeple.
Unlike many holidays, there is no specific religious connotation. You’re not expected to go to church or nothin’. There are no expensive presents to buy, no weird social roles to perform, no mandatory displays of patriotism.
Nope, Thanksgiving at its core is about two things: food and gratitude.
And yeah, I guess it marks some kind of anniversary of the beginning of European colonization of the Americas, and the genocide/diaspora of native Americans… but fuck the pilgrims. Nobody besides grade school pageant coordinators cares about the pilgrims and their stupid buckles and their stupid genophobia.
Harvest festivals and autumn feasts are an ancient part of the rich tapestry of the human experience. It makes perfect sense that before the killing cold of winter comes, we hold each other tight and stuff our faces, thankful for the things we have today which may be gone tomorrow.
After my disastrous solo Turkey Day, I vowed to never let Thanksgiving pass in such a depressing manner again—for myself, or anyone else. I spent two years with friends’ families (HOLLER PIGGY’S MOM) before striking out to host my own. Each year I host a large mix of friends, friends of friends, and semi-random strangers. Between my ambitious menus, huge guest list, labyrinthine food allergies, and freely flowing alcohol, I easily spend $500 on the event.
And although it’s financially indefensible, I don’t regret it at all.
Conscious holiday indulgence
I can afford to splurge on my favorite holiday because I don’t spend jack shit on holidays I don’t care about.
I do nothing whatsoever to mark Valentine’s Day or Easter. New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Halloween are almost always outsourced to a friend or family member’s capable hands. I am perennially thankful that my friend group arrived at a Yankee Swap detente a few years back. Mr. Kitty and I have a $30 cap on Christmas gifts for each other. So, Thanksgiving is pretty much Our Thing.
If you go nuts on each and every holiday, you will go broke. (And possibly become the Grinch. #Originstory?) But spending money on holidays you love is absolutely allowed if the dollar amount that you spend equates to a commensurate amount of joy for you personally.
Cramming my friends so full of food and drink they scream for mercy is totally worth $500 to me. One day, they will move away, and have children, and get roped into in-law celebrations. But I will always treasure Thanksgiving as the rare occasion we were all assembled to make merry.
A reading from the Book of Michael Pollan
I’d like to leave you for this week with a quote from my all-time favorite food author. If he’s not on your reading list now, please add Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food, and Cooked (which also exists as a great four-episode Netflix documentary).
This quote comes from Cooked, and summarizes my feelings about Thanksgiving entirely.
“In a world where so few of us are obliged to cook at all anymore, to choose to do so is to lodge a protest against specialization—against the total rationalization of life. Against the infiltration of commercial interests into every last cranny of our lives. To cook for the pleasure of it, to devote a portion of our leisure to it, is to declare our independence from the corporations seeking to organize our every waking moment into yet another occasion for consumption. It is to reject the debilitating notion that, at least while we’re at home, production is work best done by someone else, and the only legitimate form of leisure is consumption. This dependence marketers call ‘freedom.’
“Cooking has the power to transform more than plants and animals: It transforms us, too, from mere consumers into producers. Not completely, not all the time, but I have found that even to shift the ratio between these two identities a few degrees toward the side of production yields deep and unexpected satisfactions. This is an invitation to alter, however slightly, the ratio between production and consumption in your life. The regular exercise of these simple skills for producing some of the necessities of life increases self-reliance and freedom while reducing our dependence on distant corporations. Not just our money but our power flows toward them whenever we cannot supply any of our everyday needs and desires ourselves. And it begins to flow back toward us, and our community, as soon as we decide to take some responsibility for feeding ourselves.
“Cooking, I found, gives us the opportunity, so rare in modern life, to work directly in our own support, and in the support of the people we feed. If this is not “making a living,” I don’t know what is. In the calculus of economics, doing so may not always be the most efficient use of an amateur cook’s time, but in the calculus of human emotion, it is beautiful even so. For is there any practice less selfish, any labor less alienated, any time less wasted, than preparing something delicious and nourishing for people you love?
So let’s begin.”
Happy Thanksgiving, bitches.