Recipe for a happy Thanksgiving

In Editorial on November 16, 2011 at 11:03 am


It is a cruel twist of irony that the holidays most people look forward to all year are a leading cause of dysphoria.  Few among us are ever fortunate enough to enjoy a Rockwellian holiday season and most people end the season feeling like one of Dickens’ row-house unfortunates.


If the season is supposed to be about “peace”, “thankfulness”, and “sharing”, why are so many people miserable throughout it and seemingly so angry after it?

This year, the Phyne Dyner offers up some suggestions on how to enjoy the season and emerge from it emotionally intact.

Be realistic

One of my favorite seasonal movies is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.  Poor Clark Griswold tries desperately to create a ‘good, old-fashioned, family Christmas’ worthy of a Rockwell portrait.  Instead, he finds himself standing “at the threshold of hell”.

His family guests bring all of their yearlong idiosyncrasies to the party, the turkey is ruined, his brother-in-law’s dog destroys the house, and one or more family members ends up crying into a towel in the bathroom.  It is funny. Why?

Because we can all relate to it.

So, abandon all hope, ye who yearn for the perfect family gathering…lest your result not be congruent with the myth and you find yourself standing at the threshold of hell.

Cooking the food

Thanksgiving is not the time to try out a complex recipe you found in a foodie magazine last July.  Stick with the basics and with what you know.  It is a virtual certainty inebriated Uncle Mook will stumble through the kitchen at precisely the same time you need to add a time-sensitive ingredient to your masterpiece.

A word about deep-fried turkey…


Give the firefighters an easy day by sticking to oven-roasted Meleagris domesticus.

Insurance actuarial charts say that people prone to deep-frying an enormous bird in a bucket of hot oil are also prone to imbibing huge quantities of alcohol while doing so.

What could possibly go wrong?

And about turkey…


Turkey became the traditional centerpiece for American Thanksgiving dinners because the birds were uniquely American.  More importantly, turkey was a cheap meat with which a family of modest means could feed an enormous brood of children and half a county full of relatives.

Turkey is no longer inexpensive, so it makes no sense to buy a 20-pound bird for a family of four.

Game hens, chicken, or a small duck make for great eating and you will not have to contend with 15-pounds of turkey leftovers or (gasp!) end up tossing it in the dustbin.

This year, go for “modest, but abundant”.

There’s got to be a morning after

One of the leading causes of post-holiday depression comes in a windowed envelope in January…bills and credit card statements for the preceding month.  Even if you succumb to the adman’s lure of buying expensive and extravagant gifts early (like in June), financing them on a credit card ensures the purchase will be a gift that keeps on giving.

How much is too much for a gift?

Here is the Phyne Dyner’s proven method for determining how much to spend on any gift:  Ask the potential recipient what you got them last year on the pretense the inquiry is to prevent you from duplicating last year’s gift.  If he/she does not remember what you gave them, cut the price you spent last year in half for this year.  Gifts should be memorable and price does not correlate well to “memorable”.

“Whaddya gonna buy me?” is the mating call of the greedy toad.  Ignore it.

A still-remembered birthday gift (to me) was a “dop case” (You know, those men’s travel toiletry boxes?).  My father (z”l) got me one when I turned sixteen…an age at which most of my friends got cars.  He had just lost his business, money was tight, and he was doing laboring work in a distant city for not much pay.  I knew that he rushed from work, cleaned up a bit, ran into a discount store, bought the case, and drove over eight hours to give it to me and wish me a happy birthday.

The price tag…$2.95…was still on the bottom of the case.

I have the case today…a treasured reminder of how much my father loved me.  I know this because, after giving me my gift, he immediately rushed outside to “check the oil in the car”.  When I looked out after him, he was wiping tears from his face.

It’s not the gift, or it’s price…it’s the love behind it that matters.

“It’s Thanksgiving, let’s go…shopping?”

The other day, I was browsing through Bed, Bath, and Beyond when I noticed a sign by the door announcing, “We will be open Thanksgiving Day”.

How sad.

During my boyhood, there were long car rides to the homes of distant relatives on Thanksgiving Day.  The roads were packed with fellow travelers and the only place to spend money was at the occasional (seemingly rarely open) gas

The "mall" of my childhood.

station. The retail district looked like a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie where the zombies have taken over the city.

Snow swirled in the dark storefronts.

The biggest shopping came the weekend after Thanksgiving.  Even if you did not “keep Christmas”, everyone went shopping.

Thanksgiving Day was set aside for family and football…until some adman conjured up the idea of “football widows” unable to defer their hidden need to spend money for twenty-four hours.

These days, everything that was open on Wednesday will be open on Thanksgiving Thursday.

Can’t we have at least one day when we are not exhorted to buy something?  The stores are not open “for your convenience” they are open out of avarice.

My minimum-wage heroes

Every year, the dutiful minions of state-worship remind us about emergency service workers who “dutifully give up” their Thanksgiving for our safety.


 These folks are well compensated for their work.  “Bad things” do not take the day off and these workers knew this when they signed up for the job.

But what about the retail clerks, convenience store workers, and fast-food workers?  On Thanksgiving Day, these folks are toiling for, usually, minimum wage when they should be home and enjoying their families.

Where are the television cameras for them?

At what price are we buying “convenience”?

Such places would not be open if there was not a demand for them to be open.

Next year, let’s allow others to have the day off.  Refuse to even browse or buy anything on Thanksgiving Day.  Give these unsung workers something for which to be thankful.

It is a good habit that might just catch on!

What’s the secret?

Go for simple.

Unless you enjoy cooking an enormous meal and washing the inevitable mountain of pots, pans, and dishes, cook something simple and cook it in abundance.

Stay home, so others can stay home.  There will still be plenty to buy the day after Thanksgiving…it can wait.

If you are an employer, think carefully about closing your place of business on Thanksgiving Day.  Make a pact with your competition to do the same.  Sure, some retailers will stay open because they “have to in order to remain competitive”.  But, if everyone gives selling a one-day-per-year break, the playing field will self-level.

Turn off the electronics for one day.  No computer.  No “smart” phone (an oxymoron).  Play-by-play “tweets” and Facebook postings about the splendor of your ongoing Thanksgiving Day celebration fool no one about the cloying desperation behind them.  Please don’t.

Keep the kids home and out of the malls.  Sure, they will “hate you forever”.  So what?

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)

Most of all…plan for reality.  Few people ever get the “good old family holiday” promised by Hollywood.  In a twist of “fairness” some people get the Hollywood experience every year, while others toil in vain for it annually.

That’s life.  Don’t work at “life”…savor it.

May you have “the hap-hap-happiest holidays since Fred Astaire tap-danced with Danny F-ing Kaye”!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: