As I write this, it’s the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving here in the United States. Tomorrow, most everyone will be gathering with friends and family to take part in at least one of various festivities that mark the day: Catch up on what’s going on in each others’ lives; watch a parade on TV (more on that later); shout at the football game on TV; and, of course, dig into mounds of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, or whatever is being served in the kitchen/dining room/wherever.
However, this Thanksgiving will find yours truly away from family and pretty much relaxing at home. That’s not to say I wish I would be spending the day with my family. Truth be told, my family already had our Thanksgiving soiree last weekend. The reason for that is my mom is working during the holiday tomorrow. She works as a housekeeper and cook at a senior citizens facility a couple of blocks from where she lives, and for the first time I can recall, she’s putting in a day of gainful employment on Thanksgiving, handling the midday/afternoon shift at the facility — the very time when our family would have been gathering together, devouring food, figuring out what we wanted for Christmas gifts, and whose name we drew for gift giving.
I’m not sure if Mom drew the short end of the stick when it came to working on Thanksgiving, but knowing her, it’s a strong possibility she offered to work the day so that someone else more deserving could spend the holiday with their loved ones. In fact, Mom offered to work the Christmas Day shift 3 years ago… which meant that just like last weekend, our family gathered to mark the holiday the weekend before the actual holiday, then spent the actual holiday independently. For me, it meant staying here in Madison, relaxing at home, handling a Meals on Wheels shift… and still feeling absolutely lonely. I mean, if you were by yourself and didn’t have any plans on what’s meant to be the most festive and joyous day on the calendar, you’d probably be bummed out as well. At least I talked with them on the phone that afternoon; it wasn’t the same as being there, but as the old ad campaign for Ma Bell said, it was the next best thing.
Christmas Day 2012 wasn’t the first major holiday I spent apart from my family. Heck, it wasn’t even the first Christmas I couldn’t be with them. The first and only other time I was away from home on Christmas was right after I graduated from high school, due to… well, I don’t like to talk about those circumstances that much, but let’s just say I was predisposed a thousand miles away from Wisconsin in a place that has a pretty strict hierarchy. (Let’s just say I wasn’t there because I did anything illegal and leave it at that. No, I really do have a clean criminal record.) Despite those two Christmases, my family always make it a point to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas together if at all possible.
When you think of it, Thanksgiving is just like Christmas in that it’s a day that’s meant to be together with someone. Some businesses are closed during the day, there’s not a lot on TV or radio, and traffic on the roads is eerily quiet (really, the lack of that din sends tingles down a city person’s spine). So it goes without saying that tomorrow — the first Thanksgiving I’ll be away from family — will feel a little weird. But since we usually do our own independent things on Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day, I’ll try to train my mind into thinking that it’ll be just like one of those days.
Of course, I know I won’t be the only one away from home on Thanksgiving; it’d be foolish on my part to believe otherwise. For various reasons, they will be in the same boat as me: We may choose to be by ourselves (bummer), or we may not have family to go to (real bummer). We may be at work (just like my mom), or we may be helping out the less fortunate. Perhaps we have to spend the day thousands of miles from home (e.g. military service), or we choose to spend the day with family but away from home, as my family did one year when we spent Thanksgiving Week in Orlando (we spent the day itself down the road in Tampa visiting Busch Gardens).
We may also spend the day, say, marching in a parade. You know, the type with marching bands, extravagant floats, mile-high balloons, and a certain guy in a red suit and beard at the end. Yeah, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York (or, as I have a bad habit of calling it, the “Macy’s Day Parade”) isn’t the only parade on this holiday, but with it having wall-to-wall TV coverage every year (gee, thanks, NBC), it’s certainly the most prominent. My sisters really loved watching it when we were younger. I, on the other hand, took a more passive attitude toward it. (“Yeah, I’ll just help Mom with her dinner preparations. Either that or I’ll just stay in my room and bide my time before the Lions game kicks off.”) I suppose it’s because I always thought the parade was a rather cheesy affair: Lots of glitz, lots and lots of corporate promotion (more so now than ever), lots of awkward segues from, say, marching bands pouring their hearts out to “hot” stars mouthing the words to songs that more often than not have nothing to do with the purpose of the day or the holiday season to come (nothing like a country song about doing illicit things on some dirt road being played at a family-friendly event).
Oh, speaking of mouthing words, there’s the lip syncing. Oh, the lip syncing. Sure, drag performers lip sync all the time, but then there’s the Macy’s Day Parade type of lip syncing from singers who performed the song in the first place. It’s like, “Oh! So that’s how they can sing it the same exact way I hear it on my iPod.” This was made clear by no less an expert than the late actor Robert Urich, who was part of the 1990 Macy’s Parade and who I vividly recall admitting with jest to Entertainment Tonight the day before that the parade “will have more lip syncing than at a Milli Vanilli concert.” Yeah, Spenser sure knew how to make even the obvious philosophical; I’m not being sarcastic there.
While my sister, as noted above, loved watching the Macy’s Parade, she hate-watched it in her teens for the lip syncing alone (“Oh, you can so tell they’re not really singing”). To be fair, though, trying to sing and dance while marching down a New York City street as millions are watching you in person, not to mention millions more on TV, can be a hard thing to do. So, the need to skimp just a little bit and lip sync in order to get things
telegenic perfect is understandable. That’s not to say every act at the Macy’s Parade lip syncs; I recall seeing at least a few performers sing live when I dared to watch the event, and they deserve applause for being a “triple threat” — that is, dancing live, singing live, and doing both perfectly at the same time while not holding up the flow of a miles-long parade too much.
But, of course, watching parades or football isn’t the main purpose of Thanksgiving, nor is it the food or football or even marathon binge watching. For one, it’s about being thankful. I mean, it’s in the name of the day, isn’t it? While many of us may not admit what we’re thankful for, or even take the whole thing for granted, we all do have at least one thing that we can thankful for. For me, it’s having a family I can still connect with — despite our relatively inconvenient distance (a 2-hour drive from Madison) and our self-evident differences (I’ve never broached my crossdressing to them). Knowing that there are those like me and more than a few in the LGBT community who have been shut out by their own flesh and blood, I guess I’m fortunate to still have connections to my relations. I’m also thankful that I have another “online family” to connect with, those who are just like me and accept me for the person that I am. I’m also thankful for a (relatively) good health (though I must cut down on chocolate) and for a job I can still go to 5 days a week (and I hope I can still say that next Thanksgiving).
Thanksgiving also means being with family. As noted at the top, it’s a moot point for me this year since my family won’t be under one roof tomorrow. But we did get together last weekend, and even though it was 5 days before the actual holiday, it’s the being together part that mattered most. Being with my “online family” every day may be different, but what matters is that I can connect with them and they with me. And while the chance to break bread with them in person may never happen (although it’d be cool if we did), our connection is what matters.
Whatever you and your family are doing on Thanksgiving (whatever form of family you may have and however long or short of distance you may have between you), here’s hoping you have a safe and enjoyable day. Happy Thanksgiving to all!