For a few years, when my daughter and I were invited to Thanksgiving dinners at Bright House, the home of Helen Farias and James Carrell, Thanksgiving was what it should be: a glittering occasion of good food and good conversation. But sadly, those days are gone.
I like staying at home on Thanksgiving and having a small intimate dinner. My favorite main dish is a sophisticated squash stew served with cornbread and green beans with mustard. But too often, I am swept up instead in some well-meaning friend's attempt to provide me with a family Thanksgiving experience--usually a hodge-podge of assorted Thanksgiving orphans-and a strained attempt to find some common ground over the carcass of a turkey.
So naturally I've been researching alternative ways to celebrate Thanksgiving. Here are some of the favorite ideas I've gathered:
Susan Abel Lieberman in her book on new traditions suggests using the post-turkey time on Thanksgiving to go through all the photographs taken during the year and put them in albums. I love the way this concept combines the notion of preserving memories with the gathering of family.
Earlier on in the day, over the dinner table, you might simply ask everyone present to talk about the things for which they are thankful. Dominique Browning, the editor of House & Garden, described her reaction when her hostess at a Thanksgiving dinner announced that this was a family tradition. "It's the kind of tradition that makes you groan with anxiety, and then, unexpectedly with the pleasure of listening to people open their hearts."
Last Thanksgiving, writer Hanne Blank featured on her web site a wonderful piece. It riffed off the mantra of a woman Zen master: "Thank you for everything. I have no complaints whatsoever."