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Front Porch: Choosing stress-free way to spend Thanksgiving

I’d like to revisit Thanksgiving for a moment.

I know, it’s already fading in the rearview mirror, even though it was just a week ago, and everyone is in the frenzy of the race toward Christmas. Only 22 more shopping days left. But what happened to Thanksgiving, really?

Ostensibly it’s about celebrating the end of harvest and the bounty of the land. It’s about gathering with family and friends to give thanks for what we perceive our blessings to be, even when times are less than optimal. It’s about creating memories and continuing or establishing family traditions.

Well, yes, but also no. It’s really about the food, I think. Any and all conversation I heard pre-holiday was about fresh turkey versus frozen, who’s bringing which dish, whether to include a vegetarian dish and who had grandma’s homemade butter flake biscuit recipe. It’s an orgy of eating, followed by food coma.

There are days of preparation, yet the food gets scarfed down in 20 minutes. Then the kids are outside throwing snowballs or in the basement playing video games and hours of cleanup are hurried through so the folks gathered can go through the 11 pounds of ads that came with the day’s newspaper in preparation for a beastly early start on Black Friday shopping.

Secondarily it’s about putting into one household, along with the cherished, certain family members whose presence must be tolerated under these circumstances. Will Uncle Henry start telling those racist jokes? Will your feuding cousins snip at each other, declare open warfare or just do that uncomfortable icy stare thing? Will Aunt Martha drink too much (again) and make a spectacle? And there you are inviting your still-making-bad-choices brother who insists on bringing his new girlfriend, leaving you feeling terrible because under the circumstances you can’t invite your former sister-in-law who you dearly love, probably more so than your brother. Ah, family.

OK, I know it’s a little early to go all bah humbug. I’ve experienced many a lovely Thanksgiving, getting to play with cousins when I was little, sharing laughter with friends-made-into-family as our own family numbers dwindled. I enjoy that still and am always up to host the event or bring a dish.

It’s just that I don’t know what’s happened to Thanksgiving. For all I know, maybe it’s always been our most hectic national holiday. It just seems that more and more, it’s merely the extravaganza kickoff to the frenzied race toward that former religious celebration known as Christmas, for which there are so many gifts to buy, cards to write (or e-mail), events to plan, things to decorate, lights to hang and not nearly enough time. Oh, and by the way, happy birthday, Jesus.

Lest we forget, today is Hanukkah, also a festival of lights and also lost in the big rush to somewhere.

I know, I know, the commercialism of all these holidays has been decried for decades. But it’s more than that. They’ve been co-opted (personal opinion) – and I start with Thanksgiving – into marathon stress festivals that are neither celebratory nor all that much fun.

This year my husband and I opted out. Our charitable intent was expressed before the holiday itself, so we felt free to improvise. We decided to take advantage of a Thanksgiving package at the Coeur d’Alene Resort. I am always drawn to big bodies of water – the ocean being my favorite, but large lakes will do nicely – so that’s where we went, though there were other lovely locales to choose from.

We don’t do this kind of thing very often, so it was a real treat. We had a lake-view room with a gas fireplace. We sat by the big fireplace in the lobby, holding hands and talking about, well, everything. Included was a Thanksgiving dinner (and even little pre-packaged mini-meals to take with us as “leftovers”). We used the pool and soaked in the hot tub. We lounged in our room in those plushy robes the resort provides, watching the fire, watching the snow fall and watching a little TV. The next morning we awoke to a pretty and clear vista across the lake, watched as a tugboat moved the fireworks barges in place, had a leisurely breakfast and came back to town.

I wouldn’t want to do a two-person getaway every year because, despite all the angst that traditional Thanksgivings seem to induce, I actually do like my family and friends and spending time with them. Still, it was surprising to hear how many people said that they kind of envied our choice this year. Maybe they were just being nice.

But I do know that it was the most stress-free, relaxed, calm, leisurely, romantic (yes, old people can be romantic) and pampered Thanksgiving we’ve ever had. And for that I am truly thankful.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by e-mail at

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