Someone said to me, "Isn't this going to be the worst Thanksgiving ever?"
This took me aback. I have had many years of big family dinners, all heartwarming and fun. But here I am healthy and with much to be thankful for, so I expected to enjoy this Thanksgiving, too, even if my only "gathering" was a short visit to my daughter's backyard to share, physically distanced, my traditional homemade pumpkin pie with her family. My dinner, at home, alone, would be a Cornish game hen -- and I was anticipating a cute photo-op of the little gal on the serving platter.
The point of Thanksgiving is that we are part of something larger than ourselves, a network of family and friends. The lovely thing about the celebration is that although it is loaded with tradition, it also constantly evolves, as new babies are born, offspring take a turn at their in-laws and older relatives go to the great feast in the sky.
And this year more than a quarter-million families are grieving members lost to COVID-19, their first Thanksgiving without their loved ones, so I am grateful not to be among them.
Now with Thanksgiving safely, if untraditionally, behind us, Christmas beckons. Which raises the question, in these quarantining times: If I put up a Christmas tree and no one sees it, does it still exist?
Absolutely. I will see it. As will my cat, who is an intensely focused and appreciative observer of anything approaching bling.
Last year I gave in and bought an artificial tree because I knew exactly the type I wanted: something tall and skinny (rarely found in nature) to make a cheerful seasonal decorating statement without blocking my view or dominating my living room.
My granddaughter, then fast approaching 8, came over to help me decorate and she seemed to approve the artificial tree with its truncated shape for display at Grandma's, although I think she was grateful to return to the large real white fir at her own home.
Continuing to depart from tradition, I eschewed my white needlepointed angel that has encased the top of the tree since the '80s to clip on a large glittery butterfly that better reflected the multitude of embedded lights. One custom I kept was scattering little red velvety bows on the branches.
A most vivid Christmas memory from my 1950s childhood is the year my mother, sister and I returned from midnight Mass to crawl exhausted into our beds and discover that in our absence my father had replaced our old pillows with new ones made of that recent invention, rubber foam. Such an exciting surprise! Plus so mind-bending because my father was the breadwinner who went off to work each day in his suit, overcoat and hat -- he had nothing to do with bed linens.
Since the pandemic began, my sister and brother-in-law have FaceTimed me every Sunday. We talk for an hour about the week's activities, what's new with friends and family members, and we also reminisce.
Did I remember correctly that our father suggested one Thanksgiving that we serve a Cornish game hen on each plate instead of having the traditional turkey? Yes, my sister agreed, but our mother quickly nixed it. Now, 65 years later, I resurrected the idea for my solitary Thanksgiving dinner. Thank you, Daddy.
As I grow older, times passes too quickly so before I know it, Christmas is approaching -- again. At this point in my life, my inner curmudgeon would prefer it be celebrated every two years.
But then I think of my grandchildren. For them, a day takes a while to pass, a week is a long time, a month is forever, and a year is interminable. And at Christmastime, the adults might do the work (and handle the expense) but children add the magic.
So this weekend I will lug in the big long box and, for the second year, figure out how to assemble my tall, thin, lovely tree. Because, yes, it does exist, as do you and I, and Christmas and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, even in this surreal year. It is time to kick off the holidays.
Editor's note: Dolores Fox Ciardelli is Tri-Valley Life editor for the Pleasanton Weekly. Her column, "Valley Views," appears in the paper on the second and fourth Fridays of the month.