This time of year, I feel a bit like I’m standing at the top of a steep slope, with events snowballing into the new year: a 50th anniversary party, Thanksgiving, a wedding, an office holiday party, an actual holiday party, a family Christmas (at Disneyland, no less!), and so on. When is Hannukah?
I expect to genuinely enjoy each of these engagements, but the sight of them all on my calendar makes me short of breath. Instead I’ve chosen to focus, for now, on a single one: the night before Thanksgiving. The third Wednesday evening in November is a kind of non-event that requires little more than decamping to a dive bar in the neighborhood where my boyfriend grew up, to drink with a rotating cast of his childhood friends.
Similar gatherings will unfold all over the country on Wednesday, as grown-up kids return home for the holidays and converge on the appointed local watering hole. The menu and dress-code are as informal as you might expect, as is the schedule. Those with new babies at home might stay 20 minutes. Those absconding from a crowded kitchen might stay hours. The expectations and pressure are low, which is what makes it so easily enjoyable. I’m striving to extend this spirit, and make these next few weeks a cozy and casual preamble to holidays. The point is to make it easy: Show up in jeans, if you feel like it.
Invent your own holiday traditions
I suspect a bit of the Wednesday-before-Thanksgiving magic is that it’s a made-up tradition designed only for willing participants, with no obligations or expectations. Attendance isn’t mandatory. If you wanted to celebrate with hot chocolate and a home-screening of Troop Beverly Hills, you could. (And should!) Wouldn’t it be nice if all holidays were like that?
Quartz’s Jackie Bischof—a South African immigrant to the US who found that holiday traditions here left her cold—has found they can be. This week she wrote about how creating one’s own rituals can help alleviate the stress or sadness that the high expectations of the holidays sometimes bring.
I’ve experienced this firsthand. My parents are divorced and my sister lives in Australia, so my mom and I have spent many Christmases as a twosome. At some point, we decided the perfect Christmas Eve dinner was lasagna (probably because it was one of the first recipes I really nailed), and haven’t looked back. Some years we’ve had a stray friend or neighbor turn up and others, we’ve just had lots of leftovers. It made me feel that rather than being a fraction of a family, we were a happy whole of our own, with traditions expansive enough to make room for others—and enjoyable enough that they would want to join us.
Quartzy editor Indrani Sen takes this one step further by inventing entire holidays, including one in February called a “Polar Bear Picnic,” which entails a great deal of deep-frying and whiskey-drinking in a snowy backyard.
If you’re not ready for a whole new holiday, try inventing a small ritual to add to Thanksgiving, or your next major religious or cultural celebration. If it feels good, keep doing it.
Recipe: Cranberry chutney for Thanksgiving, or any day
This recipe, adapted by my mother from a 1987 edition of Gourmet magazine, is tastier than cranberry sauce, and an outstanding accompaniment to baked brie for a cocktail hour. It’s scaled up for a feast here to make about 4 1/2 quarts, but can be easily cut to make a smaller batch.
Bring 3 cups dried apricots, 3 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar, 3 cups dried cherries, and 6 cups water to a boil. Stir and simmer for five minutes. Add 18 cupscranberries (6 bags),6 peeled, cored, and diced Granny Smith apples, and 6 tsp. orange zest and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in 3/4 cups fresh lemon juice, 3/4 cups fresh orange juice, 1 1/2 cups chopped crystallized ginger, and 3 tsp. dried red pepper flakes. Chill and serve.
Gratitude for grumps
In my 20s I kept a list of “things to be happy about” taped to my cabinet, with more than 100 small, varied sources of joy, including cream cheese frosting, winter sun, and airmail envelopes. Visitors would check the list for updates, and sometimes write their own additions—a sort of crowd-sourced precursor to today’s “gratitude journal,” a practice that has since been proven to make people happier and healthier.
But let’s be honest—it’s not for everyone. Melody Wilding wrote this week about an exercise that makes room for acknowledging both positive and negative emotions—and can facilitate dinnertime discussion. One (Michelle Obama-endorsed) variation, sometimes called “Rose, Thorn, Bud,” involves participants talking about the day’s highlight (rose), low point (thorn), and something they’re looking forward to the following day (bud). Wilding writes that it not only offers a moment for reflection, it ticks the boxes for other healthy mental practices: embracing negative emotions, expressing gratitude, and finding room to grow.
Speaking of room to grow
The public conversation about sexual harassment and consensual sex that’s escalating with scandals surrounding Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, and Louis C.K. is a good thing, as Annaliese Griffin wrote this week: “This moment is an opportunity to change the whole conversation about sex, to make it more expansive and inclusive. It could also have the power to make actual, consensual sex hotter.”
“The word ‘pervert’ has been thrown around a lot lately as we all struggle to understand the sexual dynamics behind predatory sexual behavior,” said Annaliese. “Let’s be clear though, there’s nothing perverted about sexual desire and experimentation, so long as everyone is consenting (and legally capable of consenting). How do we deconstruct the moment without resorting to language that shames? Ask yourself, “#whatwouldJohnWatersdo?” The filmmaker and self-proclaimed ‘People’s Pervert‘ approaches sex with a gleeful curiosity that reminds us that hitting the sheets can be a creative act, so long as everyone involved is excited to be there.” I recommend reading Annaliese’s whole piece on the topic.
Here’s to sex positivity and new traditions. Have a great weekend, and a happy Thanksgiving!
PS: Shooting stars!
The Leonids, a meteor shower named for the constellation Leo (the Lion) will be peaking in the wee hours of Saturday morning. Quartz science reporter Akshat Rathi explains: “The Leonid meteor shower is caused when the Earth passes through the debris left behind by Comet Temple-Tuttle. The debris burns up in the sky, because of the friction caused during the process of entering the Earth’s atmosphere. The result is a streak of light—aka shooting star—lasting less than a second.” There’s no moon right now, making them even easier to spot, all around the world.
AP Photo/Dave Martin