Eight years ago, I was a newly wed in a grownup apartment with a grownup job and a grownup husband doing the grownup thing for the first time. I had just turned 22. And being a grownup, I volunteered to host Thanksgiving dinner for my extended family of inlaws. Having been raised in a Protestant-and-turkey family, I just could never quite get behind the idea of going to a restaurant for Thanksgiving. Still can’t, truth be told.
There was just one problem: I didn’t know how to cook. I’d never cooked a turkey before in my life. Thanksgiving day, with my new inlaws arriving, seemed like a bad time for a first turkey, especially since my mom (whom I had on speed dial) would also be busy that day. A second problem presented itself, however. Two people cannot eat a turkey by themselves and stay married. Since I was (am) fond of my husband, I invited a few friends over to help us eat it, and broke out my still-new wedding gifts to serve the turkey. I think there were 13 of us for that trial, or “mock” Thanksgiving. We had a fantastic time. We ate, drank, told stories, and celebrated together. By the time the evening was over, we decided we’d had so much fun, we had to do it again next year.
I ended up not hosting Thanksgiving for the family that year. I don’t remember why. But every year since, I’ve hosted Mocksgiving. It’s a huge annual event. People ask me about the dates months in advance. People fly in. (I have a friend from DC here now.) It even engendered a spinoff holiday — Piemas. (Which merits its own post in March at the appropriate time.)
Tonight is Mocksgiving Eve. Usually for Mocksgiving I make: 5 pies, a batch of bread, a turkey, 10 pounds of mashed potatoes, a significant amount of butternut squash, stuffing (in the turkey and outside) and gravy. (It seems like there’s usually something else too. I used to make salad, but no one eats it so I gave up.) It is potluck, so in addition to the vast amounts of food I provide, most folks bring something else too. There is a LOT of food. This year I trimmed down to one pie. I was going to make a lemon merangue too, but my crust collapsed (must remember not to use that pie pan for lemon merangue — this is the second time this has happened). On Mocksgiving Eve, I used to spend a lot of time panicking, cleaning, polishing silver (yes, I actually have silver), and er, panicking. Now that I’ve been doing this for NEARLY a decade, the panic is significantly diminished. I know what I’m doing.
As I sashayed around the kitchen, with a candle lit above the sink and my music in the background and the scent of yeast rising in the hot water, I felt very happy and where I belonged. I love Mocksgiving.
It occurred to me this year that this is one more way in which my children will grow up warped. Piemas is fine — it is a standalone. (Plus, there is no such thing as too much pie.) But after cooking for up to 30 people a week and a half before Thanksgiving, I’m in no mood to cook a proper Thanksgiving dinner. And since we have no family remaining in the area, we don’t usually end up doing, well, anything for Thanksgiving proper. I wonder how old my sons will be before they figure out that not everyone does Mocksgiving, and moreover, most people do more on Thanksgiving. They get the Thanksgiving experience, only a bit earlier and with a slightly less great-aunt-heavy crowd.
There is one thing I hate about Mocksgiving. It is a sit down meal. We all sit down at proper place settings at the same time and eat together at table. And it is inherently important to me that Mocksgiving be held in my HOME. Therefore, there is an upper limit to the number of people who can be invited. I think I topped out at 28. Twenty-eight people in your house is a LOT of people, in case you’re curious. But I have more friends than that. I invite more people than can fit because there are always people who can’t make it. But I hate hate hate sending out the invitations. I can never invite all the people I’d like to. I know there must be friends of mine who feel left out — maybe hurt — that everyone else is talking about this fantastic affair to which they have not been invited. I wish I could figure out some way that it wouldn’t happen that way, but I don’t know how to make that work. Ah well. Generally, I invite everyone I invited last year, minus people who haven’t been able to make it for a few years or whom I haven’t heard from in quite a while, plus a few new folks with whom I’ve become closer. The first few years I was able to throw it open to everyone who wanted to come. I miss that.
But the bread is made, the pie is cooling, the largest-possible-turkey is in the fridge. Tomorrow I will wrestle with it (cursing) in the morning. My friends will arrive with hugs and casseroles. There will be the hard half-hour after the turkey comes out when everything must be done simultaneously. My kitchen, immaculate at the moment, will look for all the world like a hurricane hit it. We will retell stories, contemplate our very full bellies, stay up too late, catch up on gossip and generally have a fantastic time. I can’t wait.