When I was a kid, Thanksgiving was always the same: we ate at my Grandparents house, we ate the same foods, we watched one game of football while munching on salted nuts, and then we played touch football after the Thanksgiving meal. My memories of Thanksgiving are all glorious. I don’t remember ever feeling bored or impatient or ambivalent – only delighted and reassured by the sameness of it.
Sameness is a challenge today. Now that I am an adult in charge, I have found it difficult to cultivate consistent traditions. My wife and I like change. We enjoy trying new things for the menu and the order of events. What I am finding, however, is that I haven’t enjoyed Thanksgiving as much as I did as a child. I continue to look forward to the holiday with authentic eagerness and possibility, but I have left the table at many recent Thanksgivings feeling a little disappointed. A little unimpressed.
Of course, part of the issue is that I am a grown-up. I am supposed to know things and make decisions, and one of the gifts of childhood is that other people do everything for you. Not making decisions gives lots of room for delight and fun. So, the trick for adults is to find that kind of delight and fun in other ways. Some look for it through food and drink, others through sports, still others through hobbies. My recommendation is to do this through Narrative Density.
People love stories. We are meaning-making beings – we are constantly wondering “why, why why?” Storytelling is our preferred way of making sense of things. If you doubt this, listen to a lecture sometime and notice when you tune out and when you sit up at attention. Odds are, you become alert when the lecturer says something like, “This reminds me of a story…” or “…in order to illustrate this, let me tell you a story.” We are hungry for stories – they feed us in way that is difficult to describe but easy to recognize in our truest selves.
When something is “narratively dense,” it has a concentration of stories. Netflix, obviously, is narratively dense – as is the evening news. Facebook and Twitter are notoriously addictive because social media is narratively dense. So how do we make Thanksgiving (or any holiday) more narratively dense? By telling lots of stories.
When you consider your Thanksgiving menu, consider the stories that go with each dish. Was this a recipe that was passed down through generations? Is this a meal that is traditional in a certain culture or heritage? When was the last time you had this dish and what happened? Making the meal narratively dense will make the meal more delightful and fun.
The same goes for the event planning. How will the day be organized? Who is cooking and what is everyone else doing? Who are you sharing the meal with and what are their Thanksgiving traditions? Is football or the Macy’s Parade or the Turkey Trot or playing outside in the dark a part of anyone’s tradition? If you can weave family stories into the day and let those stories inform what you do and when you do it, you will make room for more delight and fun.
And when it is time to sit down and eat, consider weaving stories into the meal itself. Who did you celebrate Thanksgiving with in the past? What were your favorite dishes? Remember years ago when the turkey was too frozen to cook and everyone had burritos? Or the time the dog ate all the stuffing? Or when Mom dropped the tray of pies on Dad? These stories are pure gold, guaranteed to create the kind of holidays your children will cherish and look forward to year after year.
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