GratiTuesday: Flexgiving

I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit that I miss my family’s traditional Thanksgiving celebrations. Unlike Hollywood’s version of dysfunctional families gathering for the annual angst-fest, our small family didn’t do drama or have arguments about grievances from long-ago. We all got along and enjoyed each other’s company.

My grandfather carving the turkey in 1964.

My mother and father hosted our family’s Thanksgiving dinners until it became too much of a burden for age-related reasons. At that point, my brother and his wife, who live locally, took over the duties and then raised the meal up a notch by introducing smoked turkey and prime rib to the menu. They also introduced a few of their friends to the mix and Thanksgiving became a bit livelier but still enjoyable and drama-free. My other brother and his family usually were able to make it down from northern California to join in the festivities.

Things started to change after my parents passed away. Like many families, they were the glue that held everything together and, once they were gone, my brothers and I slowly started to develop separate holiday traditions of our own. There were no discussions or explanations, we just began to move in different directions. I think we all understood that, even though we loved each other, our lives had diverged, and we had different paths we wanted to take around the holidays. The local brother and his wife have gotten very involved with their church and spend Thanksgiving with friends they have met there. My other brother and his wife usually spend the long weekend at a seaside hotel not too far from where they live.

Over the past several years, my husband and I have explored different ways to celebrate Thanksgiving. We’ve been invited to the homes of friends and we’ve invited friends to ours. We’ve traveled to be with relatives and we’ve stayed home and dined quietly on our own. Each version of a Thanksgiving celebration – big, small, home, away – has pluses and minuses but we’ve enjoyed them all.

This year, we have invited a couple of friends to join us for Thanksgiving dinner at our home. We’ll have the traditional offerings and are looking forward to a pleasant evening of good food and great conversation. Maybe next year we will find ourselves out of town – or even out of the country. But, no matter how we decide to spend the holiday each year, I am grateful for my warm memories of past celebrations, and for the flexibility to build new ones in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Oaxacan Celebrations

Although the timing of our recent stay in Oaxaca didn’t coincide with any of the large festivals that city is famous for, there was no lack of celebratory events. And, lucky for us, many of these festivities took place in public so we could experience the magic, color, music, and joy of an Oaxacan celebration.

We had no idea what this parade was for, but we were happy to join in!

Whether it was a wedding, graduation, quinceanera, or a religious celebration of unknown (to us) origin, the cobblestone streets were often filled with revelry and processions. What I especially liked about these celebrations is that they weren’t arranged by the chamber of commerce or designed to entertain tourists. Instead, they were authentic and steeped in ritual. That we were there to witness the festivities was fine, but the celebration was for the invited guests, the citizens of Oaxaca, and for those who roots run deep in its culture and traditions.

Many of Oaxaca’s festivals trace their origin to indigenous rituals that were later combined with Catholicism, brought to the region by Spanish conquistadores. One such holiday, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), is celebrated on the same day as All Saints Day (November 1st) and All Souls Day (November 2nd). Unlike the solemn rituals surrounding these Catholic holidays, Dia de los Muertos is marked with festivals, parades, and celebrations. The holiday and its rituals recognize death as a natural part of the human experience. The departed are seen as part of the community and on these days, they are awakened from their eternal sleep to share celebrations with their loved ones.

During the Day of the Dead celebrations, this cemetery will be filled with people and flowers.

Other festivals that are tempting us for a return visit include the huge Fiesta Guelaguetza, held in July, and the many festivals surrounding the Christmas season including Noche de Rabanos (Night of the Radishes), which brings people from all over the valley into the city center to display their homegrown radishes that have been carved into imaginative sculptures .

Whether they are remembering their departed loved ones, marking a religious holiday, or observing part of their ancient culture, the people of Oaxaca are creative and artistic, exuberant and friendly. They know how to celebrate and, best of all, we are all welcome to join in.