How to Hack Thanksgiving

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First of all, quit trying to hack things, weirdo.  You can’t hack a holiday or a life or your mom or nothing, I don’t care what Slate told you.  But I do have some Thanksgiving tips!

Thanksgiving is not that hard of a holiday.  All it is about is eating food and watching football.  There are no weird religious connotations or political issues to navigate, unless you are going to get weird about organic vs. free range crap, in which case you are Jonathan Safran Foer and you need to get off my lawn.

But holidays can still be awkward, because people can be weird about their families.  This is because of the nuclear family system, which will be torn down in two years if all goes according to my plan.  In its place will be a bunch of cults, by which I mean groups of relatives and friends who live in Melrose Place-esque complexes but with a garden instead of a pool and cool, inter-dependent relationships instead weird Tolstoy relationships.  I will accomplish this by destroying the economy and the environment, which will force the dissolution of the suburbs and thus of suburban nuclear family angst.  Don’t worry, my plan is already working!

Meet Your New Apocalypse Mom
Meet Your New Apocalypse Mom

In the meantime, however, I have some sweet tips.  They are divided according to whether you are going to be a host  or a guest or alone.  (Ha, ha, just kidding.  The joke here is that we are always essentially alone, a fact of which we become most aware when we are striving the hardest towards togetherness.  This is called situational irony.  If you would like to know whether your life sucks or not, you should try to measure how much situational irony it contains.  The more hilarious your life is, the more depressing it is.  Now that you know that, be careful not to think about it too much!)

Anyway, here are my Top 5 Hosting Hacks:*

1.  Go Potluck

Unless you are a really, really good cook, most of your food will not be that good.  It helps if you have some professional training, but even then, a few of your dishes are going to fall flat.  This chart breaks it down:

dinner party success rates

In any given dinner, one dish will be okay, another really good, another lousy, and the last good.  The reasons why might vary, but the formula never does.  Maybe it’s because you’ve never cooked something before, or you had too many things going at once, or you skimped on ingredient quality.  Who’s to say (besides your guests, to each other, in the car on the way home)?   This is not a big deal normally, but Thanksgiving is a meal freighted with expectation.  If the turkey is “just okay,” everybody will get sad, because they will decide it is a symbol of how their family is “just okay.”   The way to get around this is to potluck the flip out of your meal.  Have your guests each make their specialty, whether it’s candied yams or tomato jam or pot brownies.  This will make them really invested and competitive, resulting in lots of delicious food (and tasty savings for you!)  At the very least, you are sharing the blame, which is a good life technique in general.

2.  Don’t Make a Turkey

I know that everybody says they want to eat a turkey, but what they really want is to feel that the Barthian sign of the turkey is present.  To put it another way, people are way more excited by the idea of the turkey than by the turkey itself.  Turkeys are difficult to cook because their breeding has gotten all perverted.  Their meat is dry and flavorless and it’s almost impossible to cook it all to the same degree of doneness–either the breast meat is perfect and the dark meat is underdone or the dark meat is cooked well and the breast is dry as hell.  The turkey is really just an excuse to eat lots of stuffing and gravy, which people crave because they don’t eat them very often, because for some reason most people are embarrassed to make stuffing and graving a part of their regular diets even though they LOVE IT MORE THAN ANYTHING.  Perhaps they feel like they must “suffer” through the turkey in order to get to the sweet, sweet stuffing and gravy, and that if they just went around cooking stuffing and gravy all the time all willy-nilly-like, they would lose their Protestant Work Ethics and immediately turn into hobos, in which case they would never get their sweet, sweet stuffing and gravy anyway.  Or perhaps it’s the ritual of smelling the turkey all day and worrying about it that they like–anointing the fatted calf with oils and ungents and whatnot.  Or just the sweet visuals.  BEHOLD:

turkeyHere is my true solution to this problem: Make lamb or salmon or ham or chicken, something that actually tastes good.  But to appease weirdos, roast a neck or some giblets or whatever that you gank from somebody who’s actually purchased a turkey.  That way, the magical turkey smell will still be present while your guests sit around watching football.  Enhance this illusion by blowing up the above picture, framing it, and hanging it over the dinner table.  The important elements of the turkey illusion will still be maintained, without the pesky presence of the turkey itself to contend with.  If anybody questions you, lecture them about semiotics until they cry.  Then pass the stuffing.

3.  Bake, Bake, Bake

The other main things that people like about Thanksgiving are biscuits and dessert.  When the conversation stalls, stuff the silence with warm, buttery crumbs.  Example:

Some dad:  “I can’t wait to read ‘Going Rogue.'”

Some offspring:  “That’s dumb.  I hate you.  I hate life.  Do you understand life?”

You:  “I made pecan pie!”

Other guests:  “Eff yeah!”

Some offspring:  “This doesn’t change the fact that I hate you all.”

Some dad:  “Why I oughta–”

You:  “There’s real whipped cream!”

Some offspring:  “Oh, OK.”

PieFace
Your cat, your dad, and your sibs all have one weakness . . .

4.  Watch ” The Beastmaster”

In this section, I was going to talk about the importance of background media–how it provides a handy  conversation piece, which is convenient, but also how sad it is that the art of conversation has declined to the point that we need external sources of entertainment in order to interact.  I was going to discuss how weird it is that Americans have collectively lost their social skills over the course of only two generations (just think–our grandparents used to get together for neighborhood cocktail parties and have weird Lions or Eagles clubs and just, you know, interact for fun, whereas us and our parents can’t get through a conversation without texting or fact-checking some dumb point via imdb.com, assuming we’re even having conversations, instead of just sitting around absorbing warm TV rays, which is crazy–we’re a nation of hikikomori.)  I was going to ask if anybody you know has actually gone on a real date in their life (“date night” doesn’t count),  and then I was going to contrast all this “The Internet and Media in General Are the End of Culture” sturm und drang with this awesome Clay Shirkey essay about how technology makes everybody crazy at first but then we adjust: just look at the Industrial Revolution, which made everybody just get drunk for a really long time before they figured out how to be awesome again, which is going to happen to us someday at some point.  But screw it–“The Beastmaster” is really good, whether it’s a crutch for interaction or not.  He’s a master of beasts, you know?  Look at him:

Get it together, animal friends.  NOW.
Get it together, animal friends. NOW.

He’s objectively cool, and it’s objectively okay to love him.  END TRANSMISSION.

5.  Act Right

Okay, here’s the deal: sometimes things don’t work out.  Sometimes, despite all your little “life hacks” and “time management tools” and “I-statements” and whatever, the course of true love does not run smooth.  That is to say, sometimes things are sad or awkward.  The turkey burns, or your uncle gets drunk, or your sister says the wrong thing at the wrong time and makes everybody else feel like shit.  These things happen.  And when they do, you have a choice: you can get all crushed and flail about and store up the bad feeling so that you can make some of your precocious art about it, like some poem about how nobody is real but you or whatever, or you could Act Right.  You can pretend that you don’t know what Acting Right entails, but that’s a flipping lie and you know it.  Acting Right means committing to the situation.  You accept that the situation is a bad situation, and you don’t lie to yourself about it.  You let it be sad.  Then you look at whether there is anything you can do to improve it, if there are any elements of the situation that are under your direct control.  Some might be, some might not.  Focus on those elements which you have power over, and exert that power.  It will mean doing things that you don’t want to do–it will mean making conversation with people you don’t want to talk to, or spending money you don’t really have to spare, or sucking up some crap you don’t want to take.  It will not feel good, and you will not receive points.  But you will have satisfaction, of a sort.  You will know that you did what needed to be done.  You will know that you are not a douchebag (see Fig. A.)

Fig. A
Fig. A

And you will give thanks.

*Seriously, I’m not doing tips for guests or loners.  If you are a guest to a Thanksgiving you don’t want to go to, simply arrive late and leave early.  If you are alone, get some takeout and eat it in the bathtub with lots of candles.  IT IS BOTH GOOD AND DISGUSTING AND COOL, WHICH IS A GOOD LIFE PLAN.

1 thought on “How to Hack Thanksgiving

  1. Thanksgiving is always hands-down, the most awkward/worst holiday at my parents’ house. It’s like everyone in my family leaves their manners, social graces, and empathy at the door. The day invariable devolves into an emotional beat down free-for-all. I’m going to print out your THXGVNG guide and leave it in the bathroom so everyone has a chance to spend a couple minutes reading it. Maybe the alone time will give them pause to consider the steps they can take to stop fucking up what should be a lovely harvest feast.
    However, my action may be the pebble that starts the passive aggressive guilt avalanche.

    I give thanks for manufactured famil-iends!
    I give thanks for YOU.

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