Holiday Madness

As nature slows down, many of us are gearing up for a busy holiday season – beginning with Thanksgiving next week.

Dan and Becky Allender unpack some of the nostalgia that surrounds the holiday, the tensions that arise from unmet expectations or clashing opinions, and what we can mindfully bring to the Thanksgiving table – and what can be left at the door.

So as we enter into this season of “holiday madness,” as Dan puts it, we hope you can pause to consider what this time of year means for you, and how you can help foster a season of goodness for you and the people in your life.

Episode Transcript:

Dan: This episode is about Thanksgiving, which, given that we’re about a few days from, it makes a whole lot of sense. But I will also admit that as we come to talk about Thanksgiving, two things are happening for me. One is this is a holiday that I bear at least some level of ambivalence about, even though historically it’s like if you look at what’s the number one holiday, it’s either Christmas or Halloween and followed up usually by Thanksgiving. So this is a holiday people really do look forward to. And the two of us, my beloved wife, hi Becky, good to have you with us.

Becky: It’s good to be on with you.

Dan: And we’re probably physically closer than we’ve been for, I don’t know, about seven or eight days. Given that we’ve been in quarantine, you and I both had our first experience of Covid. So, if we cough, if you hear the sounds of some degree of illness, that’s what we’re bringing into thinking about the holiday season, and we’re really referring to this as Thanksgiving madness. And to the degree that you can engage sort of the realm of madness, this is our presumption. You’ll be better to enjoy the goodness of what this holiday brings to the degree that you flood yourself with naivete or nostalgia, there will be things that probably keep the holiday from being as good as it is meant to be. So we wanna deal with how to remove at least a portion of the madness. So how is Covid for you, my love?

Becky: Well, Covid… we were busy running a five day weekend, so it was not the covid I had expected, but we enjoyed 10 or 11 hours of sleep every night during that time.

Dan: And I’m still in that, even though I think both of us physically are better, I’m really amazed at the level of exhaustion that ensues at one or two o’clock in the afternoon. I feel like I’ve been up for 20 hours. And so 8 to 12 hours of sleep is fairly common in the post. Not too far post-covid. We both are negative. So that’s good. Let me begin by saying, for me, the holiday itself is in a season of such transition and often such illness, I’ll go back to that, but in some ways Thanksgiving at the end of the year is within, in some ways, a pretty remarkable period for most of us in terms of the weather, the change, all the drama that was there in the fall begins to alter. So it’s one of the things I want you to put words to as to what is it like for you in this particular season that Thanksgiving shows up.

Becky: Well, to me, I’ve just been amazed at the beauty outside of our windows and driving home from the ferry. It’s like I’ve never been more excited over the beauty of fall in my life. And I don’t know if this is part of just getting older that each year it seems better than it ever was before. But the beauty has really captured me. And so I’m trying to stay within that. However, I know since we don’t have Covid anymore, that we will be leaving our house and a lot will descend upon us. But for now, it’s just been a time of glory.

Dan: What about Autumn for you?

Becky: Well, it’s my favorite season and our daughter who is a five element acupuncturist, it’s the season of metal, it’s the season that five elements is what different organs are used most efficiently in the seasons. And so with fall, it is the lungs we breathe in, what we need, we breathe out what we don’t need. It’s also the large intestine we eliminate. So you think of the fall food that you eat, soups and squashes, all of this is a cleansing time. And just as we look at the beauty of the leaves, we also notice the leaves are falling. And where we are right now, they’re in the glory. But as they fall, there’s a shedding that for me is quite melancholy. I’m just kind of a bittersweet person where there’s always this sadness, even with joy. It’s kind of my constitution, you would say. But we are meant at this season to shed just as the leaves are being shed from the trees and our lungs are the most exposed of all of our organ systems. So we, it’s a time we have to be careful too with colds and things like that.

Dan: Well, and particularly, at least the first several days of Covid, even though our symptoms, mine particularly were milder than what I’ve read and saw from many friends who had this horrible disease much earlier, but that ability to breathe was compromised for two or three days. And even though it worked itself out much quicker than many have suffered, there’s still a sense in which it is terrifying to have something so essential to your life compromised. So the idea that we’re shedding, we’re letting go. We’re in one sense having to take in and let go of this particular season. I think in some ways we forget we’re seasonal.

Becky: Yeah, we’re connected to the earth and all that’s happening in nature is also happening with us. And so you have been drinking tea with honey. It’s a time of having less sugar, which is interesting as we head into the holidays. But honey is okay, raw honey, it’s good for your lungs.

Dan: And that process of being able to go, can we count not just the reality of the holiday, but of the season that it’s in? Again, we’re looking out a window and we do have so much beauty still present, but the leaves are, shall we say, a little more faded, the reality that what leaves will fall are falling pretty rapidly. And we’re moving from fall to winter, but really not quite yet into the reality of the deadness of winter, yet it’s coming. And so in some sense, this is a season of loss, a season of having to hold more, to go a bit slower, and to let the process of this transition from fall to winter actually take place. And most of us, at least for me, I don’t think about it until we have a conversation like we did regarding what do we wanna say? And yet that’s really affecting me. The world around me is shaping how I’m moving into this holiday.

Becky: And the day yesterday, our first day to be negative, I was a whirling dervish, just reorganizing art supplies for the grandchildren. They don’t do these things as much anymore. So put my art supplies in. I did this whole thing with the house. And that’s kind of what you do in the fall. Because as we move to winter, it’s more of the time of going deep. There are more times of depth and quiet. But this is the time. If you’ve got organization things to do, this should be the time that you are feeling that from nature.

Dan: Yeah. Well, let me just ask, what did you say to me as I returned, I’ve been in another bedroom, we just figured it was better for our different sleep patterns to not be disrupting one another. What did you say at the beginning of my re-arrival in our bedroom?

Becky: I asked when you were headed that way. And then as I was working on the computer and in my study you walked by and I said, just be cautious. Just have caution. And of course, you didn’t understand what that meant. And I don’t know why I chose that word, but it’s like, have cautioned it. Look at the beauty of our bathroom counter, and let’s really try and attain that piece. So I put a two of piles of your T-shirts higher so you would have more time for all of your debris.

Dan: Okay, well, it’s another factor to be considered, at least for us. And if it’s of some help to you all, I hope so. But as an academic, when I get to this season, it’s usually where I’ve got massive amounts of grading to do it. It’s the beginning of the end of the year. And in that beginning there is more labor, more time spent in doing the work that needs to be done to be able to end the year. So there is this contrast for me, historically, when I go into Thanksgiving, there’s this intersection between, it’s more busy than almost any other season of the year, but it’s also where my body begins to let down from travel, from the exigencies and complications of the year. And the moment you let down, for many of us who live moderately high-stress lives, it’s where illness comes. So it was not that surprising to me that as we get into this season, it ends up where we both have Covid, but even in the past where covid an issue, it’d be where my lungs were compromised, pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections, et cetera. So between the exhaustion of the year, the illnesses, my piles generally grow. They’re always existing.

Becky: It didn’t go with really what this fall season about, which is going inward. And it’s time to nourish our bodies with really good eating habits and to declutter, which again, they used to be papers, hard copy papers. But now I’m sure you feel overwhelmed with trying to declutter your inbox with all your papers you need to be doing.

Dan: Oh, stop it. I don’t wanna think about it. So I think what we’re beginning to invite you, the listener to do is that don’t just go into Thanksgiving. Don’t just, well, who’s gonna do the Turkey? Who’s gonna do the cranberry sauce? Who’s gonna do the stuffing, et cetera. There needs to be some degree of preparation. Do you know the season that you’re in? Do you know what stress you bring historically into this particular season? And we are, I think, thankfully not hosting Thanksgiving meal in our home, our daughter is, and that is sweet. But it also creates complications because there is a certain, both mythology, but nostalgia, a history past in terms of the last 10 years, but also a history in terms of our own young parts, our younger selves that need to be engaged and tended to as we come into this holiday. Otherwise, I go back to the phrase, there’s a madness about the whole holiday season beginning, certainly with Thanksgiving, and to the degree we walk into it without an awareness of what we bring, what the world brings, what weather brings, I think we walk in way more naive and in one sense, falsely innocent than we need be. But for you, I’m curious as to when you think about your history, our history with regard to both the good, the bad, the ugly, with regard to Thanksgiving, where do you go?

Becky: Yeah. I really go to the Currier and Ives, oddly enough, as a child that was in magazines, I think we had prints of that someplace in our house. And as a child, I did love going to elementary school in particular, and the songs over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go. And you just found out something getting prepped for this didn’t you? I’ll let you say it.

Dan: Well, it’s just such, I mean, it was a poem written back in 1864, but originally it was grandfather’s house. And yet…

Becky: And I hollered, well forget that he’s the one doing the cooking. Yeah, you gotta change that one. So I’m glad that was changed.

Dan: I don’t know when it actually shifted over to grandmother’s house, but for both of us, Thanksgiving, at least in its origin for me, is the experience of going to my grandmother’s house, of the smells of her kitchen, watching her work with my mother to, and my father to create this phenomenal meal. So, I don’t know if there is a holiday that bears more nostalgia, more a sense of returning to the ache of home being lost, than Thanksgiving.

Becky: And we both grew up in Columbus, Ohio. So we were both going to rural areas to be with our grandmothers. And I had a grandfather living, so it was like a Norman Rockwell. There would be 20 people around the dining room table. And there was the children’s table and then children’s tables, ’cause my grandmother was a blended, had a blended family because both my grandfather and grandmother lost a spouse during the depression. So they remarried. And I do see my grandmother just in that big white apron and my grandfather carving the Turkey. It was pretty phenomenal actually. But it was also usually gray. And so that drive through the Ohio farmlands and countryside was just always, was kind of gloomy.

Dan: Well, and just even holding that, I find that more than just preparation for this podcast, but normally it is the season where I think about my grandmother more than any other season. And it has the presence of what we’ve referred to as again, right-hemisphere-reality that is smells, sounds, the small splinters of memory that return. And I miss my grandmother a lot always, but I think there’s no season in which her absence is more effective for me than this particular season. But it’s also complicated in that there are so many other, shall we say, demands just food oriented, let alone people who are coming usually to our home. The role of hospitality has always been one where you have felt certain pressures and lack of my involvement. I have felt so often the structures of your demand that things be as you demand and wish for them to be. So there have been tensions that almost always exist when we come to these high holidays. And so between the nostalgia and one sense, the heightened attunement to the presences power, the life of my grandmother and then the complications of the meal itself, the day… I’m beginning to name the madness.

Becky: Yeah, yeah. No, I think it’s really cool that in this day and age they still have a Turkey hotline, because as a new bride and so many of our Thanksgivings in our beginning years when you were teaching, we’d have all the single women over for Thanksgiving and yeah, you would call the Turkey hotline. I mean why now you can just Google anything. But I love that the Turkey hotline is still there because it’s hardly ever on time the Turkey that is. And it’s just part of it, I guess sometimes you have to linger another two hours and that’s a memory,

Dan: Well…

Becky: I mean another two hours to bake the damn turkey.

Dan: Well, and again, because we have localized so much of how we engage things in the kitchen, we’ve actually talked a little bit about the fact that Covid has created a context for me to have, should we say, interrupted your more pristine oriented way of functioning in the kitchen. So at least we’re not doing that.

Becky: Maybe it sounds like you’re harboring something.

Dan: I’m not gonna deny it, but just saying that, excuse me, that these are the kinds of complications that if again, it doesn’t get addressed, like okay, there is really a season, but we also have histories. But we also have a day that when family or friends were invited had complication. I mean, just getting the meal on the table was a challenge, let alone creating goodness as we would hope. And I think there is something of the expectation of this day that in some ways you don’t wanna deconstruct and throw away ’cause it is a high holiday. It’s a time in which more often than not families are together in a way they’re generally not through much of the year. And yet with that comes all the issues of your family, especially when it’s meant to be a day of Thanksgiving. Oh good lord. That alone sets up the potential for such goodness. But also the expectation of we’re all gonna sit around the table and each bring one point of gratitude. Again, things that you just know are right to do, yet so often in the expectation that it’s gonna be more meaningful than indeed it ends up being there is so much potential for disappointment through this process.

Becky: Yes, absolutely. I look back to when I was a child at my grandmother’s grandparents’ home, I don’t remember going around and saying, what are you thankful for? I don’t know. That probably came when I married you, Dan, because you’re the wordsmith. I don’t think we had that pressure. I know there was a prayer and I guess that would’ve been my grandfather or grandmother that would’ve prayed. So that’s so funny to kind of deconstruct what and what is.

Dan: Now. Well, and especially that we are going to be doing Thanksgiving in our daughter’s home. We don’t set the tone, we don’t set the mood. There are things we get to bring just like any other person, food, literally, but also a way of being. But in going to someone else’s home, you are submitting to a process that you shouldn’t have control over. And indeed, if you make yourself the one who sets the tone in the direction, I think you have moved from being the guest to the host. So I mean, there are so many intricacies, again, not to ruin the holiday by asking you to consider all this, but simply saying, what do you bring as you come to this holiday? What expectations i. e. demands? What setups are you not addressing as you walk in? And I think for a lot of families, the tensions of the political era, the polarization, the division, generally speaking, most families have enough diversity of opinion that it can easily create a level of we’re not gonna go there, or if we go there, it’s not gonna go well. And in either case, that polarization or you can’t go there. Or if we do go there, it will not go well. Creates in and of itself this kind of plasticity, a kind of veneer of just, bonne homme, of good fellow human being. Let’s just be together, enjoy time. So the reality that often conflict erupts, but also is bound to be avoided, creates the potential for greater tensions. Can this be talked about engaged well enough that you go into this holiday not with read and not with in one sense lots of rules, but with a sense of what do you bring? What does your family bring into this conversation? We wanna make a shift fairly soon, but anything else that would just help people name something of the complication of what this holiday is like?

Becky: Well, yeah, I mean, we’re in a changing cultural time, not only politically, but in reality of even we grew up with Columbus Day and now it’s Indigenous Person’s day. So I mean, there’s a lot of clashes that are a pretty certain possibility.

Dan: And to hold the reality that the myths that we would have been fed as elementary school children of the lovely beginnings of Thanksgiving being the coalition and a mutuality of the pilgrims and the so-called Indians, the indigenous people, and going, no, the story is not a sweet story. Then how do we, in the midst of a difficult year, number of years, how do we hold this as a day that is meant to be more than just a meal together? And certainly more than just from my standpoint, a prayer at the beginning and eat the, eventually sit on the couch, watch football, several people playing games, other people having conversations around the house. It may not be the, in one sense, ecclesia, the gathering, the church, and a point of reflection thought, gratitude may not be all that you would wish for it to be, but we do wanna move into what could it be and what will you need to bring in order for the holiday, even in the midst of madness to be a better day than what it might be. So any thoughts as to what you plan on bringing into our daughter’s house? Other than what particular food? What are you bringing that you hope will bring goodness to the community we are?

Becky: Well obviously a thankful heart, willing hands to help, delight in our grandchildren. And yes, I think I wanna come unencumbered. I want that sense of already the clarification, the letting go, the discernment, what’s important. I wanna have done that work ahead of time so that I come really just as me with a lot of things not attached to me that I’m expecting others to do. I really, I hope my presence, I pray my presence just brings a sense of being thankful. Being thankful to be with everyone, to help, to enjoy, to laugh, and none of my agenda placed on the day.

Dan: Well, and I think as I’ve tried to ponder, I doubt there will be a major, everyone, we’ve got too diverse of ages to create a kind of just communal, everybody answering the question, what are you most grateful for? But I began to think about what do I want to ask of each person, including, the younger persons in our family, the youngest being Gus, who’s five. So these questions feel like anyone can answer and they’re two. And I needed some alliteration to be able to hold it. And that is what have you been most surprised by this year? And I think that as I began to play with, how would I answer that? I’m not gonna answer it, but how so many things came up and some of the surprises were pretty horrible and some of the surprises were so sweet. So I’m not sure yet how I’m gonna respond if somebody does ask, I’m gonna ask each person, but not in a group. That was another decision of, I want to ask this of each person saying, I’m gonna ask of everyone, but I’m just, so hopefully Driscoll and I will be standing out on his porch looking at the pasture that’s near and be able to say, Driscoll, what in this year has been most surprising for you? And I think the second question I wanna ask, and my question to myself is, do I want to ask it at the same time? And I think because of time and whatever it will likely be, what has stretched you, and the word stretch doesn’t apply what’s broken you, what? What’s caused you to have to go further in some realm than what you would have anticipated. It at least opens the door to a different way of engaging gratitude. And I think that notion of going directly to the question, what are you thankful for? What are you grateful for? I think people anticipate that it could be asked. And often the response is not as true as what it can be if we come in through this slant. So I think those are the questions that I’m most curious. And so again, obviously I’m letting you know that I’ll be asking you that, but I don’t want people to be prepared. I don’t want them to know I’m gonna ask that question. So you are the only one… Well, you better not.

Becky: I will not tell… No, I think those are great questions, honey. I love those.

Dan: And I think the other category that seems really important to state is doing exactly what you said. And I think we probably need to do it as a couple as to what do we bring into this world that we don’t wanna bring? I don’t wanna bring mud into my daughter’s home that’s carrying And there’s a lot. There’s a lot of crap that the year has held that I don’t wanna bring in.

Becky: We don’t wanna clutter their place. No, we wanna come with a different ear…

Dan: So it’s back to the shedding of those leaves on the tree. What do I want to just let fall, let drop. But also back to the question of what do I wanna bring? And I think what has been so true for both of us is that both of our grandmothers played such important roles in our lives. And in that I wanna make sure that you are given huge ground to be with our grandchildren. Not that I’m not planning to do an engagement as well, but I don’t think, at least in our lives, we hold our grandfathers with the same level of honor and delight as our grandmothers. And that powerful role just feels like you need to shine your play, your playfulness and kindness and presence just needs to have a very clear stage to be as it is, which means I need to be more involved in getting the food on the table then you doing that…

Becky: And asking questions and not healthy Professor Dean Allender. That sounds good. No, I think we need to all do the work of letting go shedding what we don’t need to take into Thanksgiving or the season of this holiday through Christmas, do our work, get rid of what we need to get rid of and be fully present in the present that we wanna be present in.

Dan: And oh, I’m somewhat grateful that where we’re going does not have TV reception and the ability to distract ourselves, in the meaninglessness of a game that I can’t imagine most of the players are thrilled to have to be playing on Thanksgiving Day. All that to say, to be very, very aware of where distractions are really an effort on the part of the family unwittingly to escape engagement. But again, I can be a very intense person and I know at times that I want engagement in a way that makes my larger family somewhat uncomfortable. And so being able to, again, shed demands false expectations while simultaneously holding desire. It is where I would say it’s the great complication of thanksgiving to be able to do both. I want much, I won’t demand much. Can I keep that stance in a way in which I’m not burdening those around me. But I’m also not placating the structures that often exist by the noise, by all the detail, by all the complexities that exist in the meal.

Becky: And there’s so much around our breath today, just our breath work that we can do. And so to be breathing in what we don’t need anymore, oh wait, no breathing in what we are breathing out, what we don’t need to make that a practice of love. Who are we to be mindful and yeah, I hope it allows us to not get caught up in the crazy crazy frenzy of Christmas.

Dan: Yeah. Well I think for us, two things before we depart. One is I think it is wise to keep that word before the two of us, even if it’s just a slight tap and a word like breathe just breathe. And those moments where you’re bringing things you know you don’t need to bring, can you do the breath work to tend to all that this holiday meant means and could mean the other is, what are we gonna do about the fact that, to me, the most important meal from Thanksgiving is not the Thanksgiving day meal…

Becky: It’s the leftovers.

Dan: It’s the leftovers. What are we doing?

Becky: We’re taking plastic. Everyone will bring plastic and we’ll all take some home.

Dan: Yeah. But are we gonna do, are we gonna have an even a small little tray? Are we gonna do our own small version? I can.

Becky: I was just breathing out what I didn’t need. I love our local grocery store. They really do some awesome Thanksgiving dinners.

Dan: Well, even that would be, again, we don’t need to do our own mini Thanksgiving, but you do agree.

Becky: Oh yeah.

Dan: We wanna, that the leftovers are almost

Becky: Turkey sandwiches with mayonnaise.

Dan: Oh yeah. But also with really fine mustard. Yeah. All that to say, folks, we wish you truly a kind of deconstruction of the madness. An entry into something of the sweetness and an honoring of all that you have known in the past and all that you dream with regard to the redemptive presence of Thanksgiving in the future. And may we breathe well in the present.

Becky: And be so thankful.

Dan: Indeed, happy Thanksgiving.