My grandfather died on Thanksgiving, as we were taking the turkey out of the oven. It’s the elephant in the room in my brain when the holiday rolls around. There’s always a part of me that wants to jump on the chow-laden table, kick the bowl of cranberry sauce into the wall, and shout, “A GREAT GODDAMN MAN DIED THIS DAY, AND WE ARE ALL GOING TO TAKE A MINUTE TO RECOGNIZE.”
Kicking the cranberry sauce into the wall doesn’t have any real significance, by the way, I think it would just look really bad-ass.
The hell of it is that I LOVED Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was always a big deal in my family, as my grandparents were never happier than when they were cooking for loved ones, friends, pets, and random passers-by. This was especially true of my grandfather. He grew up during the Depression with very little, went on to be a cook in the Army, and spent the balance of his life running a diner in downtown Hartford. As a result, it was his prime directive to feed as many people as humanly possible.
My wife learned this the first time she sat down with my family for Thanksgiving. After we all had our tiny bowl of canned fruit cocktail (Yeah, I never understood that either), my grandmother brought out a 43 pound lasagna and a bucket of sauce. My wife, trooper that she is, didn’t even ask, “No turkey?” She just assumed, “Oh, it’s an Italian family, they must do this in PLACE of the turkey.” Then she ate a home-plate sized piece. You know, to be polite.
Then the turkey, along with all of the traditional trimmings and came out, much to the surprise of only her. I should have briefed her, I guess, but I just kind of assumed everyone kicked off their Thanksgiving meal with an entirely different meal. There were probably 10 people at the table, tops, and enough food for about 10,000. (Kayla dutifully tried to eat her post-dinner dinner, while my grandfather kept asking, “Are you getting enough to eat?”)
My grandparents made it look effortless, too. As we all got older, and became in charge of our own Thanksgivings, we all came to the realization that they must have had elves, or magic, or something. Because being in charge of Thanksgiving is like invading a small country while simultaneously catering the invasion.
When my family lost my grandparents, that stress of organizing a great big feast for a ton of people was compounded with the feeling that no matter what we did, no matter how much food we made, no matter how great the spread, it just wasn’t good enough. Not because we’re not good at providing people with too much food and a great time. My family, to a person, are experts at both of those things. It wasn’t good enough because THEY weren’t there. And it was very, very difficult to be thankful for anything with that hanging over us.
Here in LA, we hosted Thanksgiving for a few years, and one year, we slammed about 20 people into a dining area that was meant to accommodate 6. And the whole time, as I was running around stirring, turning, flipping, carving, etc, I just found myself thinking, “OH GOD, WHY AM I BOTHERING TO DO THIS, IT’S MEANINGLESS WITHOUT THEM.” You’ll be happy to know that in spite of this, I was still able to consume my weight in stuffing. I consider it my mutant power.
Even though you, gentle reader, might not share the PATENTLY CUCKOO story of watching a loved one slip away on the most Norman Rockwell day of the year, I know for many of you Thanksgiving is still a turducken of stress. You bit off more than you can chew, prep-wise. You decided to deep-fry your turkey, and now there’s fire, horrible fire everywhere. Everyone in your family drank a box of wine each, and has a lot of loud wrong opinions about everything, from Obamacare to why you’re still single. And so on.
So I had this idea. An idea for a new holiday.
And it’s today. It’s happening right now as we speak.
“PPPPHHHHHTTTTT,” you’re probably exclaiming, spitting out your coffee everywhere. “Another goddamn holiday? In addition to Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Christmas, and The 27 Day Celebration Of The Celestial Corn Goddess? What kind of monster are you, Cagan? Don’t answer that you’re a jerk monster, a big stupid jerk monster.”
And you’d be right. The last two months of the year are always an old-fashioned, down-home atrocity exhibition. Additionally, I am a big stupid jerk monster. It’s a living.
When we threw our massive Turkeypalooza in LA, we made a lot of food. A LOT. And our friends, generous souls that they were, not prepared for a Cagan Thanksgiving Onslaught, also brought a lot of food. And as a result, we had more leftovers than two people could ever possibly consume. So the next morning, Kayla and I shrugged, and called a bunch of friends to come over and help us take it on. We had just hosted a massive holiday meal, and now we were basically doing it again.
And even though we were still feeding a bunch of people, all of the stress from the day before was gone. Because it wasn’t THANKSGIVING. It wasn’t this THING we had to live up to. And more to the point, it wasn’t the EXACT DAY I lost one of the most important people in my life.
It was just leftovers. We were just having friends over for leftovers. We were having a nice, relaxed meal, crashing out on couches with microwaved plates of delicious food that had done nothing in the last 24 hours but hang out in the fridge and become even more delicious. It was heavenly.
So my modest proposal is this. Let today, the Friday after Thanksgiving, be forever known as Leftovers Day. If you, like me, have a tough time with Thanksgiving, then you are going to love Leftovers Day. Because it’s everything you love about Thanksgiving, and none of the stuff you don’t. Can’t stand being around your family? GREAT! They don’t have to be there! Hate getting dressed up? GREAT! Sweatpants it up, bro! It’s just leftovers. Grab some paper plates and pull up a couch. It’s the most low-maintenance holiday ever.
“Cagan, you insensitive ass. I don’t HAVE any leftovers. How does THAT fit into this gravy-induced hallucination of a holiday,” you might be saying (somewhat aggressively, I might add). Luckily, this isn’t a problem. Order a pizza. It has been scientifically proven that pizza turns into leftovers quicker than any other foodstuff. (And if you order Domino’s, it’s basically already leftovers.) Tell your pals to bring whatever’s hanging out in their fridge from the day before. Oh, and beer. Somebody bring beer.
The food isn’t even the important part, really. Leftovers Day is mostly the day to get rid of that leftover holiday stress, and double down on the things that matter most. Your friends. Your loved ones. All of the blessings in your life that you forgot to be thankful for yesterday, because you were too busy running from crummy memories, or dodging your uncle’s September 11th conspiracy theories, or invading and catering (aka “invatering”) a small country.
And that’s it. Just carve out a little time today to have a turkey and cranberry sauce sandwich with some pals. If you can’t do it today, the spirit of Leftover Day is a very easy one to carry in your heart throughout the year. Maybe, six months from now, you’ll have a crummy day at work, and a thing of mushu pork and fried rice in your fridge. Invite a buddy over, and celebrate surviving it.
So, happy Leftovers Day, my friends. And if you’re in the neighborhood, we have 3/4ths of a lasagna and whatever stuffing I haven’t eaten while writing this.