Sometimes I wonder what Thanksgiving would be like if the Pilgrims had celebrated their thankfulness with a pot of tea and a day at the spa instead of a feast – but the history books are pretty clear on this, even in the Progressive Schools of LA.

Too bad, because tea and a Spa Day would work way better for my dad: he always wakes up on Thanksgiving, terrified of weight gain, and exercises feverishly all morning. The afternoon is devoted to begging the rest of us to hike up Mt. McKinley with him. I’ll never forget the Christmas he gave me my first oxygen tank. Try returning one of those without a gift receipt. And watching TV all day does NOT cause brain tumors. I googled it.

Thanksgiving cup of teaIf the Pilgrims had been more girth-aware, they might have started the day with a HUGE pot of tea, snuffing their hunger with zero calories – assuming Miles Standish didn’t go all jiggy and party-down with sugar and cream shots.

And maybe they did, but until we see it documented on Biggest Loser, we’ll continue to wash all our thankfulness down with diet gin and tonics.

Only then are we ready to help my dad decide what he is allowed to eat. Despite his career as a professor at UCLA, who was put on this earth to spread the word on the many causes of glacial moraines (not as obvious as you thought!), he has never bothered learning the basics of calorie content.

“How many calories in this piece of pumpkin pie?” he’ll ask.
“Fifty”, my sister and I chime in together as we stuff ours in.
“And the whipped cream?”
“Hmmmm.” He happily shovels it down.

In his slavish quest for eternal life, he finally weighs less than each of us. And we know it. Because he tells everyone. We hear it in person Thanksgiving morning and then his RSS feed reports his 5 pound gain the next day. Must’ve been the salad. He didn’t ask for a calorie count on that.

Then there’s my husband’s family, whom we host every holiday season, in a selfless gesture to avoid driving for hours and hours and hours to someone else’s house.

But if my family is predictable in its traditions, Bill’s is full of surprises. Their best trick is arriving early while I’m still in the shower – but it’s debatable whose fault that really is. Then one year, without warning, two of them went rogue vegetarian – “we still eat bacon…”

But I was really floored the year that Bill’s son, still childless, asked us if we’d be available for babysitting.

“ARE YOU PREGNANT?!” This was just the excuse I needed to buy that new, educational bedtime story Good Night, Uranus.

No, they were not pregnant yet, but they had discussed it on the drive over and decided that if the fertility gods smiled upon them, they might have a problem. Every year they go to Burning Man, a bohemian art festival in the desert, and they thought it might be too much for their spawn to see drugged-out naked people screwing in the mud. At least until the age of 13 or so. What did we think?

Besides heart-warming family talk, there are always the food traditions. Tea does not come into play until after dinner, when we need it “to make room for dessert.”

Our step-niece-in-law (did I mention we live in LA?) always brings the Killer Potatoes: cream of chicken soup, butter, cheddar cheese, butter, sour cream, don’t forget the cheddar cheese, and maybe some potatoes if the pan is not too full. Don’t want to over-do the vegetable thing since we already have candied sweet potatoes and a green bean smothered in cream sauce.

And then there was the year that we met so late in the season that it was the Winter Solstice. As we stuffed our faces with pre-dinner fudge (not to be confused with the pies that were off-limits until dessert) the Druids announced they were FASTING. Right then. At the party. In my House o’Turkey Worship. Fortunately, a simple ceremony ensured that our tap water was free of all evil spirits, so I made a big pot of tea and at least they had something to swallow.

My dad would have warned them of bloating.