Here we are again coming upon Thanksgiving. This is probably the holiday that’s the “biggest deal” in my own family of origins. Sure we celebrated birthdays and Christmas and all of those things in one way or another. My child self would never have given Thanksgiving a “higher place” than waking up to presents from Santa under the tree. And yet it is the Thanksgiving holiday that endures.
When we grew up and had to make those negotiations with spouses, in-laws and our own families my parents were flexible. They were not as interested in the date of the holiday, or even the theme of the holiday. They were interested in us getting together as a family. My Mom’s birthday being December 18th we had lots of room to shuffle to accommodate winter break, Yule, Christmas with the in-laws and anything else we wanted to throw into the winter holiday mix (like a dog sled ride or a choir concert.)
Spring break became much more important than Easter, especially when the Grandchildren’s birthdays, Spring Equinox, and wedding anniversaries were added to the mix. 4th of July was always about where to get a campsite rather than fireworks and parades, and once my parents retired it became about political campaign fundraising. Memorial Day my Mother took turns with her siblings for who got to tend the family gravesite and my father took his annual first canoe trip to the boundary waters.
Thanksgiving stayed the same. Even if no one was coming my Mom was determined to have her turkey and stuffing. Since we knew she was cooking anyway we’d often drop by before or after even if we’d committed to be elsewhere. All of the family stories seem to center around activities that happened at Thanksgiving. At my Grandmother’s Thanksgiving there was the traditional fight between my Dad and his sister over the turkey heart. There was the year my Mom got dinner on the table within 24 hours of being released from the hospital. (We got her through the meal and insisted she needed to go back! – Another holiday in the ER.) Thanksgiving is an opportunity for family adventures.
I may have mentioned in a previous post (Graduate) that my family cooks. Thanksgiving is probably the only time that cooking isn’t a competition. Everyone has found their “signature dish” and even when no one else will eat it, the meal isn’t the same without it. My Grandmother’s marshmallow and walnut salad made appearances every year long after she’d passed. It still gets talked about, although my mother has acknowledged that it doesn’t fit anybody’s taste, time, or dietary requirements anymore. My sister always shows up with the infamous green bean casserole. She’s happy to share it with anyone, usually an in-law. It was never in my mother’s repertoire, my sister discovered it after she was married just like I discovered cranberries didn’t have to come out of a can.
This year my Mom, who has become Great Grandma, has decided that Thanksgiving is just a little bit too much. She’s still hosting, still determined to make her turkey, stuffing, wild rice, mashed potatoes and gravy. She decided that she didn’t need pie. Oh, she’ll still make some, just not for Thanksgiving. Besides, she says, no one is hungry enough for desert after that meal anyway!
I guess I can’t argue the point and I’m proud of her for acknowledging enough is enough (even if Dad is on duty to keep her hands off the pie crust makings – the harder task.) The problem is that I promised Darcy a pecan pie. Darcy is a new mom and my “niece-in-law”. She deserves a pecan pie, and it’s not one Mom ever really made so no competition. But one pie for Darcy isn’t going to go over well with 13 people (that I know of) at the table. (I didn’t count the new baby either.) So today the blog is a little late because I’ve been busy. What’s Thanksgiving without pie?
Although the last Wiccan holiday, the one at the Solstice, is called Midsummer, it is this Sabbat that seems to fall in the middle of the summer as most of us experience it. It is after August 1st that the school letters go out and shopping for the fall clothes begins. It is the beginning of the Dog Days, and often the worst of the heat and allergies.
The Dog Days are actually an astronomical reference. The sun moves into close proximation with the Dog Star Sirius. At least it used to when this term was originally coined. Our entire galaxy moves around a central core and so over time it shifts our solar system’s relationship to the other stars.
Not being a particularly athletic person, I’ve always been amazed that the hottest time of the year seems to also be associated with athletic contests. From the caber tossing festivals in Scotland to the Greek Olympiad August is the month for athletic competitions. I can barely breathe, much less move and yet this is the season for proving ultimate athletic prowess
In the days before air conditioning the hottest days were often good for baking. My mother always said “When it’s this hot already warming up the oven doesn’t make much difference.” Actually baking could make the house feel cooler as the oven produced a dry heat and reduced the overall humidity in the air. The yeast certainly rises faster on those warm August days.
I often think of this as the forgotten Sabbat. Between everyone’s summer vacations, all the county fairs, the Renaissance fairs and Pagan festivals it’s hard to find room in the schedule to get together and celebrate. Maybe that’s the point of the physical competition. People tend to find time when a sporting event is included with the picnic. Maybe it’s why tailgating is so popular.
The holiday is also referred to as Lugh’s day or Lughnasadd. It stems from a celebration of the end of the corn harvest. Or more probably the barley harvest in the Brittish Isles. There the contests were usually for a keg of beer, or barley malt. The yeasts don’t only work quickly in baking, it’s also a good time for certain stages of the brewing process.
August is a great month for pies. Many of the berries are peaking, especially in the northern climates. The early apples will be in. Even meat pies are good as a use for the stringier meat of the older animals and the pests (squirrels, rabbits, 4 and 20 blackbirds…), and they’re a welcome contribution at a picnic or pot luck.
So have a picnic and remember that those summer days are getting shorter as the harvest begins to come in. Enjoy the summer Olympics. Have some corn on the cob. Eat more pie.