Originally published in The Fresno Bee on Nov. 24, 2011
The first smell I associate with Thanksgiving is toast. That’s what I first begin prepping, usually two days before the feast, toasting loaves of bread and tearing the slices into bite-sized pieces for dressing.
The day before my family gathers, more fragrances fill my kitchen — sauteeing onions and celery, then sage as I get further into prepping the dressing — a recipe that goes back to my own childhood — and sweet corn simmering in a bath of cream, bechamel sauce and parmesan cheese.
The day itself is a cacophony of aromas — roasting turkey, sweet potatoes baking with cinnamon and nutmeg, fresh cranberries simmering with orange zest and juice.
It all goes pretty smoothly, until that last hour before it’s time to put all the food on the counter. Up until 4:30 or so, it’s relatively quiet in our house. Just those of us who live there, getting ready for the influx to come. We’ve got the routine pretty much down.
Starting around 5 p.m., that last hour is my “oven dance,” the hour I spend juggling all the side dishes that have to be ready at once.
That hour before mealtime is also when my house fills up with family and friends — really too many people for the size of our house. But not too many for the love in our hearts.
The noise level rises — laughter, chatter, and this year the babbling and crying of a toddler. There are hugs and cheers. And through it all, the intricate ballet of participants dancing around each other in my kitchen, as the meal nears a state of readiness.
Thanksgiving is a full sensory experience. It starts with aromas, but eventually encompasses all of my senses: smell, sound, sight, taste and touch.
This, to me, is why I’m not ready to move on to Christmas as soon as we close the door on Halloween. Not until Thanksgiving has been fully savored. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.
I’m not ready for Christmas carols. Black Friday shopping at the crack of dawn (or even earlier) isn’t my thing. I’m not ready to focus on Christmas “wish lists.”
Everything about Thanksgiving is on my wish list — loved ones, close friends we consider extended family, good food, companionship and conversation, working together to get the house and the meal ready, then cleaning up afterward. It is bittersweet if we can’t celebrate with all the people we consider family.
Much of today’s Christmas focus seems to be on the commercial — shopping, buying, instant gratification, fulfilling our every want (not necessarily need). What we need the most can’t be bought. At Thanksgiving, I like to focus on what we already have — people and relationships.
For at least the past decade, fixing Thanksgiving dinner has been my gift to my family, and some friends who are close enough to be considered part of our family. I follow some recipes that my brothers and I grew up with, but I also add new recipes to the mix, change things up a bit from year to year. Tradition means doing things the way we’ve always done them, but it’s also never too late to add new traditions, to watch Thanksgiving evolve into Friendsgiving.
I’ve learned through the years that family isn’t just who we’re born with. It’s also who we choose to be with, the people who bring out the best in us, challenge us, make us laugh and cry.
For all of my families, blood and otherwise, I am thankful today.