Holiday Dread: Making Thanksgiving Dinner

Growing up and culling the guest list.

Image: liz west

For the past five years or so, my sisters and I have thrown together an ostensibly pleasant and joyous Thanksgiving dinner for friends, hosted out of my very small apartment. The bulk of the cooking would fall on us. As control freaks with little interest in seeing how someone else interprets mashed potatoes, in the early years we found it preferable to just do it all ourselves and have guests bring enough alcohol, appetizers and desserts so that we would never be required to set foot in a liquor store or the baking aisle of the grocery store, staring bleary-eyed at rows of pumpkin pie filling considering escape routes.

The thrill of cooking a big meal like Thanksgiving is exhilarating at first, like a Buzzfeed post about performative adulthood come to life. Look at me, I’m brining a turkey, you think while using the decorative mortar and pestle you pulled off the TV stand to crush fennel seeds for the dry brine. Yay, I own a roasting rack now, you muse as you wrestle it into the oven. Cooking for other people is a special thing, a lovely physical manifestation of your love or care. But it’s only rewarding if you do it for people that you love.

The guest list for Thanksgiving every year was a mix of friends old and occasionally very new. The first few years, cooking for my sisters, some people I knew well and near-strangers was fine. Everyone was appreciative and kind and ate the food and smiled even if the turkey was dry. I’m not sure what precipitated my sudden change of heart, but when I realized that Thanksgiving was imminent, instead of joyfully marking dog-earing pages in Bon Appétit and circulating an oven schedule, I felt something akin to dread — a low-simmering irritation at the thought of a scrum of people in my house, eating food, and then staying there past my traditional Thanksgiving bedtime of 9pm on the dot. This year, I put my foot down.

“I don’t want to cook Thanksgiving dinner for a shitload of strangers,” I told my sisters. “It has to be just us.”

The move towards a family-only Thanksgiving isn’t because I’m clamoring for more family time — my sisters and I live in the same city and any casual observer of our relationship would surmise that we are obsessed with each other. It’s just that what was once a event that I actually enjoyed had turned into a nightmare that caused resentment to bloom deep in my chest earlier and earlier every year.

As my mother’s daughter, I revel in the showmanship of making a big meal — plunking the turkey on the counter; carving it fussily and improperly with a glass of wine at my elbow, then eating my meal standing up in the kitchen with an eye on the gravy. This runs in my blood; I don’t know any other way to be. Half of it is an act, of course — I’m not really that put out. Last year, I crawled into bed and shut the door on a group of people drinking wine and banging repeatedly on a card table, the noise of which I thought was a dream but was actually two of the aforementioned friends of friends cutting lines of coke in my living room.

Thanksgiving is a holiday for eating more food than is necessary, watching the dog parade on TV and sleeping until at 10am the next day. It’s the best holiday in the world. This year, it will be small. My sisters and I will make some sides, roast a chicken, and drink wine in my dining room. Someone will fight with someone else, over something petty and insignificant, but we’ll recover quickly. Later, we’ll Uber to a friend’s house for dessert. I will go to sleep in silence. It will be fine — nice, even!

Holiday Dread is The Awl’s series dedicated to the season of joy and other emotions. Previously:

Holiday Dread: Being A One-Plater