I was having dinner with a friend the other night, talking about our holiday plans, when she asked, with sudden passion in her voice, “Why can’t we just have all our holiday dinners with our friends instead of our families? It would be so much more relaxed!”
Not to detract from family holidays, which do hold their own pleasures, but there is something special about getting together with friends during the holidays too–all of the joys of a shared history without the baggage.
Pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving is the best sort of holiday party, combining food, friends, and tradition. It started in 2000. After graduating from UW, Michael spent a few years living in the Bay Area, and had just returned to Seattle. Adam suggested it, Dan hosted in his post-college bachelor pad without furniture (except for a blow-up chair, or so the stories go), and members of their grad school class showed up on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, bringing significant others and a dish to share.
Some things have remained the same throughout the years. Michael always makes the turkey (and usually stuffing, gravy, and ham too). Dan always hosts, although now he has a wife, a daughter, and a spacious house, rather than a bachelor pad. Everyone contributes something to the meal. And a bottle of Wild Turkey always makes the rounds for a post-dinner toast.
The cast members vary slightly, depending on other holiday commitments and geographical challenges. The number of babies has gone off the charts since last year. They were still outnumbered by the 15-20 adults in attendance this year, but the next generation is gaining ground. I’ve only been attending Pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving for a few years, but I’m going to make an educated guess that the conversational territory has shifted quite a bit over the years to reflect the different life-stages of the partipants, dwelling heavily on babies and remodelling projects this year.
Michael cooked all day on Wednesday, and I arrived in time to help carry the turkey, ham, stuffing, and gravy out to the car. As we drove over to Dan’s the aroma in the car was nearly irresistible. I wanted to pull over and dive into the goodness in back.
When we parked in front of Dan’s house, I got my first glimpse of the massive remodel that was nearing completion. His house was double the size of last year. We picked our damp way up the muddy front walk, and opened the front door to light and warmth and a noisy crowd of people, already setting out food on the counters and table, getting drinks, and touring the brand-spanking new interior of Dan’s house.
Before long, it was time to eat, and we loaded our plates with a bounty of pre-Thanksgiving goodness. Turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, rolls, salad, corn casserole, gravy, cranberry sauce. All of the good stuff was there.
Pat wriggled his eyebrows enticingly as he pointed out the two kinds of mashed potatoes he had brought. The traditional variety was tasty, with just the right consistency and a some skins for texture. The spicy version was fantastic. As Pat explained to me later, he chooses a variety of red and green chiles–jalapenos, serranos, and what ever else looks good at the store, then minces them finely and stirs them into the mashed potatoes. The result was beautifully festive, with it’s Christmasy red and green theme, and refreshingly spicy. I love traditional holiday food, but it’s not generally highly spiced, and my palate starts to crave some fire.
As I neared a state of total food coma, cupcakes and desserts were served, then the Wild Turkey was poured and quaffed, followed by some dramatic face-making and even a few choking sounds. The gathering of babies and shoes and serving plates began. And thus ended another Pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving.