There was a distinct difference between my Thanksgiving dinner in 2005 and this year in 2010.
Five years ago, the tension bottled up inside of me felt like the pressure bursting through the top of Mt. Saint Helens. That year, I made every dish: the popovers, cranberry sauce, stuffing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, the pie, even the halfway cooked turkey... don't ask. While there was some slight guidance from my Dad, he was too distracted to focus his attention towards the kitchen, so I was left to master the dinner at 15 years old. While I wanted to tackle the full smorgasbord of culinary delights, I was quickly drown in the stress of not enough oven space, ingredients spilling over the counter and trying to have all the dishes ready by 5 p.m.
My ambitions may have been noble, but I was missing the spirit of Thanksgiving: the magic of each guest bringing to the table dishes that they made - traditions, childhood favorites and new creations. Thanksgiving fosters the ability for a group of people to share part of their past and present through the offering of food prepared with their unique love and care. Focused attention on one or two dishes allows for a more effective display of their dedication and personality. Aunt Marge brings her orange-cranberry relish she makes every year, cousin Carol tried Ina Garten's new rosemary mashed potato recipe and your neighbor Jack baked two succulent, golden apple pies. As each guest places their dish on the table, you're reminded how the meal is made special by the contributions of all those who join, not by the stress and sweat one person slaving to making the entire feast - so much so that they are not able to enjoy the experience.
This year, I had the privilege of sharing Thanksgiving dinner with my godparents, their children, grandchildren, family and friends. It was a group of 15 with plenty of laughs and clinking wine glasses to fill the night with cheer and merriment. When each couple arrived, they set their contribution on the kitchen counter, and soon it was covered with the traditional Thanksgiving dishes and then some. No one person was burdened with supplying too many things and each dish was made with the attention and care it deserved. If there was any stress, it was impossible to detect, all aided by the simple act of sharing the creation of what can seem to be a daunting culinary extravaganza.
Five years later and I finally understand the lesson ... let everyone take part in the magic of Thanksgiving! Dishes shared from a variety of people cultivate a memorable and heartfelt meal... and who wouldn't want a taste of that?