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November 23, 2017 by

Why Jews Shouldn’t Stress About Thanksgiving

1200px-TraditionalThanksgivingIt seems like you’ve just recovered from the lightning round of Jewish holidays – Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Sukkot, Sukkot, Sukkot, Sukkot, Sukkot, Sukkot (did I get all the Sukkot days in there?), Shmini Atzeret, Simchat Torah, and a collection of four or so Shabbatot – when you start seeing pilgrims and turkeys everywhere, and people start long text message chains about who is and isn’t coming “home” for Thanksgiving. The prospect of cooking a massive meal – AGAIN – isn’t something you have a lot of strength for. But here are five reasons why you – as a person who observed Jewish holidays a mere four weeks ago – shouldn’t stress over Thanksgiving.

1. You’ve already been through basic training. The Jewish holidays was your 80s training montage: rapid-fire holidays, coordinated menus, and if you’re observant of holiday restrictions, you’ve likely been trapped in the house or in synagogue for days on end. Thanksgiving is only a few hours long, you’re not racing any setting suns or candle lighting times or anything. People come, they eat, they leave. It’s the easiest holiday you’ll observe all year.

2. Provides opportunities for secular and halakhic debates. Are we celebrating the pillaging of a land and the slaughter of its indigenous people with every bite of cranberry sauce? Do you say Hallel – a prayer only traditionally said on Jewish holidays of celebration – on Thanksgiving? Do you add “shir hama’alot” to grace after meals? Is turkey even kosher? Just because it’s an American holiday doesn’t mean you can’t argue with your fellow Jews about it. And if those are boring, here’s one I just made up: kosher marshmallows are often made with fish gelatin; can you serve a marshmallow-and-sweet-potatoes dish at the same meal as a turkey? And what if there’s also beef? Do you need a separate fork to not mix poultry or meat with fish? Confused? Perfect – that’s how you know it’s working.

3. The election was last year. What this hopefully means is that political clashes will be fewer this year than they were last year, so everyone can focus their energy on spotlight issues like sexual harassment and assault, Twitter moving to 280 characters, and criticizing your family’s single or most financially unstable members. (That last one was a joke. Please don’t. I ALREADY TOLD YOU, I HAVEN’T MET THE RIGHT PERSON AND I’M A FREELANCER!!!)

4. The television is always there for you. It’s football season, so if things get tense, people can leave the room “to check the score of the game.” They don’t have to know which game, but it’s an easy out of challenging conversations. Designating one TV or a separate room as a kids’ area also gives you an exit: “I’m just going to check on the kids.” That’s such an accepted excuse for leaving a room that it may take some people a minute to say, “hey, she doesn’t have kids…”

5. It’s a great opportunity to cultivate an attitude of gratitude for your circle of family and friends. True, Jewish tradition has a lot of prayers of gratitude, but they’re mostly directed at the same entity that is the focus of the rest of the liturgy: God. And there are many reasons why prayers may resonate or fall flat as you intone them, or seem less than divine, and many of us find them so inaccessible that we eschew them altogether. But really identifying gratitude toward people in your life who contribute positively to your existence regularly or even once in a meaningful way is an incredible opportunity, and it’s one we don’t take often. Expressing gratitude to people for the little things they do makes them feel seen and acknowledged, and may also open a bridge to deeper conversation and more meaningful connection.

So wherever you are for Thanksgiving, don’t stress – treat it as a “light” version of the Jewish holidays you just celebrated and spend it with intention, and with people who help you appreciate life’s finer moments and support you in times of challenge. May this day of Thanksgiving provide you with ample blessings, and the emotional acuity to acknowledge them.