I have published my handy Murfin’s Thanksgiving Rules annually for the last few years. A lot of folks say they found it useful and inspiring. A few have found it a tad heavy on the snark. Some of the home hospitality divas, foodies, Martha Stewart wanabees, and both uptight WASPS and self-righteous food purists of various stripes have been offended. Good. The rules weren’t meant for the likes of you but for the rest of us with sloppy homes, messy lives, limited time and income.
This year in the wake of the election I am amending the Rules because many families and gatherings of friends will be under extreme stress as passionate devotees of vastly different political and social beliefs try to break bread together and preserve relationships without stabbing each other with the carving knife. Indeed in some cases this will be impossible. If an actual riot does not break out at the dinner table, when the screaming and cursing subside some relationships will be irrevocably shattered and sundered. It is sad, but it will happen and it won’t feel like a Saturday Night Live skit. It will be utterly devastating to all concerned.
But most of us, thankfully, will fall short of that disaster, or can by closely adhering to the to the following supplemental Murfin Rules.
- a. When Uncle Waldo, Great Aunt Edna, or your idiot brother in law starts to spout off, listen deeply—try to hear the pain behind the rage. Ask questions that gently try to draw them out. Try to identify common ground.
- b. Try to avoid match outrage with outrage, accusation with counter-charge. The old damn touchy-feely advise of a thousand conflict resolution seminars actually works some if we can manage it—say “I hear what you are saying.” Repeat it back to them in calmer, less inflammatory language. “But that makes me feel”…like a steaming pile of disrespected shit, in much more polite language of course. This will be tough, but try it.
- c. If you see that the children present are being frightened of traumatized, ask for a temporary truce until the meal ends and suggest continuing adult conversation later while the kids are mesmerized by their phones in another room.
- d. It is alright to make nice through gritted teeth because you will see these assholes again at Christmas and may still be in the will.
- e. But—and
this is a major but—have zero tolerance
for racial, ethnic, religious, homophobic, or gender slurs or threats
of violence. If the
conversation seems to be drifting
in that direction it is up to the hosts—you!—to
make it clear that it will not be tolerated. If the offender breaks that stipulation tell them to leave immediately, do
not pass Go, and do not collect
their share of the leftovers.
This will be hard and may lead to the horrible breach mentioned earlier, but you will have modeled for any kids present how
to stand up to bullies and stand with the oppressed. It might be the greatest gift you can give this holiday season.
Here are my less inflammatory Rules. These have also been amended some in light of events this year.
Now that we’ve got that straight, here is a poem I have been using as a little prayer in gatherings of our multi-faith and no faith family. Feel free to use it if it fits. Or not. No pressure.
- If you spend the day in a homeless shelter, soup kitchen, jail, hospital, nursing home, or even on the street blatantly and illegally feeding the hungry, read no more. Your sins have been erased and forgotten and you win a gold star in the middle of your forehead.
- Sleep in a little. No matter how much there is to do, you will need your rest. Strong coffee with a little of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is OK.
- It’s alright to come early and spend the day—AS LONG AS THOSE NOT ACTUALLY COOKING OR HELPING BY REQUEST STAY THE HELL OUT OF THE KITCHEN.
- If you are coming, bring something, anything to add to the feast and festivities unless you are explicitly warned against if by the occasional fussy perfect Hosts and Hostesses. It does not have to be homemade, expensive, or complicated. Just not poisonous.
- If you are not cooking, help with the set up. Not every home has a state dining room, plenty of matching chairs, and infinite table leaves. Be prepared to move furniture aside, scour the house for any chair that will not collapse, including the folding chairs rusting in the garage. Try to make sure there are plates, bowls, glasses, and tableware at every seat. They do not have to match. In a pinch Ronald McDonald plates will suffice. Be prepared to ferry food from the kitchen as directed.
- Try to seat the children at the table. If this is not possible, do not ask teenagers to sit at the kids’ table. They will know you just want them to baby sit and hate you so much that you may later not want to be alone with them near the plug in your nursing home.
- Speaking of children, if any are present at least one will smash an heirloom platter, spill a two litter of Coke on the kitchen floor and everyone’s feet will be sticky the rest of the day, or pour gravy on the cat. Smile sweetly. This will become a beloved family story, and will embarrass the miscreant for decades to come.
- It is alright for some folks to watch some football when dinner is not on the table or family social time is not in force as long as men don’t hog the couches and beer and women are not made galley slaves and serving wenches.
- When dinner is finally ready, firmly demand that all electronics be put away. This will cause shrieks and wails of protest, some of it from actual teenagers, the rest from relatives who realize you do not want them posting the meal live on Reddit. There will be sulking. Almost everyone will get over it. Then tell some of the men that means turning of the football game as well.
- Saying grace is fine. If you are a host, take a look around your table and if you are not completely sure that everyone there shares your exact and passionate religious convictions, try to make the prayer as inclusive as possible. Don’t ask for salvation of lost souls. No adding political diatribes in the guise of prayer—right or left. If you are a guest and hear a prayer that does not conform to your preferences unless a thumb has been stuck directly in your eye, smile and ignore it. Chances are that no matter how doltish the person praying meant well.
- This year after grace, take a moment to reflect—reject the Pilgrim myth and conquering bravado it implies. Remember the Native Peoples who were more than props. Embrace the parts of the holiday that elevate the essential virtue of gratitude for unmerited abundance and treasures our one common, non-sectarian common feast day. Keep the continuing struggles of Native Americans in our hearts. Best of all, find some way to use the gathering to sustain that struggle.
- This is not the occasion to go to war over food choices. Let what you won’t/can’t eat pass by. Carnivores do not ridicule the vegetarians—and hosts make sure they have something to eat. Vegetarians, vegans, and Ethical eaters spare everyone your diatribes. You knew what you were in for when you agreed to come.
- There almost surely will be at least one dramatic, cathartic moment at the table when old resentments are laid bare and skeletons come tumbling out of the closet. A few tears, even a little screaming and a dramatic stomping away from the table clear the air like a thunderstorm on the prairie. Afterwards if there is love and a dollop of understanding, the expectant tension broken, things feel better. Pass the pies.
- After dinner the COOKS ARE EXEMPT FROM CLEAN-UP AND DISHWASHING!!!! There are no guests at Thanksgiving. Everyone is literal, figurative, or honorary family. Roll up your sleeves and pitch in. With a group effort, and plenty of take home containers for leftovers, it doesn’t take long.
- Don’t everybody scatter the second the pie is put away. Deal the cards on the cleared table, play charades or parlor games. If there is a piano or guitar, start the singing. Share scrapbooks. Break out your best lies.
- After a while it is alright to surrender to lethargy, sprawl listlessly on sofas and easy chairs, go gape mouthed and stupid. Even snore a little. There must be some sappy old movie on to pretend to watch.
- And the most important rule of all—DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT GOING SHOPPING! If you do, I will hunt you down and hurt you.
A Thanksgiving Prayer for Those Who Don’t PrayThanks for the hands.All of them.That dug and scratched,reaped and loaded,milled and butchered,baked and cooked,served and scrubbed.The cracked,the bleeding,the blistered hands.The hands thathewed and smelted,sawed and hammered,wove and sewed,put together and took apart.The calloused,the greasy,the grimy hands.The hands thatwrote and painted,plucked and keyedcarved and created.The graceful,the supple,the nimble hands.The hands thatcaressed and fondled,stroked and petted,held and are held,grasped and gave,played and prayed.The warm,the soft,the forgiving hands.And today bless even the hands thatshoved and scourged,slapped and smote,bound and chained us.The harsh,the hateful,the heavy hands.Today they cannot still our handsfrom their pleasure and their duty.The void of anger they create,our hands fill with love.The gentle,the clasping,the reaching hands.—Patrick Murfin