A Seat at the Thanksgiving Table

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As we age and our families shrink, it often becomes necessary to find a new spot at the Thanksgiving table -- or a new table entirely. Sara Alexander has this holiday Perspective.

When my mother died 18 years ago my Thanksgiving died with her.

At first I did not think much of it, and was glad that I might never again have to fly during the most god-awful travel days of the year. Besides, “all things Thanksgiving” had already been devolving for a while. First, she didn’t want all of us kids to come home at the same time. Next, she began buying her pies at Costco. But it was still the one holiday of the year we could we all enjoy. There was none of the “how-Christian-or-how-Jewish-do-we-celebrate?” ambiguity that came with Christmas and none of its psychotic consumerism and hyper-activity. There was none of the dreary “who-will-kiss-me-at-midnight” angst that could trump the forced merriment of New Years Eve.

And we all loved food, possibly more than each other. But we loved each other enough to get ourselves to Detroit to perform some new re-enactment of childhood Thanksgiving rituals.

After Mom died I went looking for a comfortable spot at a Thanksgiving table. I tried being the guest at homes of friends, and homes of friends of friends. I tried inviting an equally wistful sibling to town and cooking, or eating out. I even learned to host, to survive frenzy in the grocery stores and slavery in the kitchen, to bake the sacrificial bird and answer that great unanswerable question, “How big of a turkey do we need?”


But, more often than not, all my choices have surprisingly uncomfortable trade-offs.

Now I am grateful to notice that aging is obliging more friends to come up with a holiday re-design. As their children grow up and move away, as their usual hosts age or die, they find themselves asking: "Where will I go this year?"

I am glad for their company in this changing world where limitations force some of us to find a spot at a new table. Or to set a table where others might happily sit.

With a Perspective, I’m Sara Alexander.

Sara Alexander is a marriage and family therapist who cooks, writes and makes short documentaries. She lives in San Francisco and Graton, CA.