When my best friend and I were single and in our 20’s, we referred to Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve as “the Trifecta.” Unlike children, retail stores and Hallmark, we were not filled with holiday cheer. In fact, we dreaded the onset of holidays. The Trifecta began with Thanksgiving. Every year we debated which part of The Trifecta was worse. My vote often went to Thanksgiving. Instead of an extended family happily coming together for an autumnal feast, the traditional American celebratory dinner was just my parents and me—the “only child.” It seems hard to believe that we argued more bitterly on Thanksgiving than on other occasions, but we did. The usual hot topics were unavoidable on holidays, but the tension was higher. We always argued about the same things: my unsatisfying job and my inability to find The Right Man, (not necessarily in that order). Maybe we fought more on Thanksgiving because it marked the passage of time. After all, it had been a year since the previous holiday season, and I still had not lived up to expectations, (mine or my parents). Of course, while swallowing antacids, I imagined other families bonding over turkey with gravy and stuffing.
Since I’m Jewish, Christmas was more benign. All I had to do was scrounge together gifts for the super intendant, doorman and other employees of my NYC apartment building, and I was done. My parents and I usually exchanged modest “holiday gifts,” and those were relatively easy to purchase and required no special celebratory dinner. (Thank God). Nevertheless, there was that “bah, humbug feeling.”I know I’m not the only one who has felt like Scrooge. Judging from the number of blogs describing the holiday blues and offering tips to avoid depression, I have plenty of company. Is it possible to live up to all the high expectations of the season when we are constantly being reminded to be “thankful” and “merry?” Of course I’m not so naïve as to think most families resemble a Norman Rockwell painting. Still, it’s hard not to yearn for yuletide joy when bombarded by Christmas movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and endless car commercials with Michael Bolton singing holiday songs to happy shoppers.
Do you ever feel like you'll scream if you hear "White Christmas" one more time? Yes, it IS a beautiful song, but not after you've heard it 100,000 times. Also, if you live in New York City, the snow is lovely for about an hour. Then it turns grey and slushy, with splotches of yellow and brown from, well, you know. Traffic grinds to a standstill and the competition for taxis is deadly.
Could it be possible that “the Trifecta” is a form of seasonal depression? Seasonal Affective Disorder (also known as SAD) starts when the days grow shorter and darker. Some people become depressed from a lack of sunlight and find relief from special sun lamps. New Year’s Eve comes only 10 days after the shortest day of the year, December21, the winter solstice.
When I was in my 20s, the grand finale of the Trifecta was New Year’s Eve. If you were a single woman without a boyfriend to kiss at midnight, it could be incredibly depressing. Even worse was hanging on to a bad relationship to avoid being alone on New Year’s. What was the solution? Going out with my best friend to a movie or play, opening champagne and smoking a joint.
Now that I’ve been married 25 years, I’ve almost forgotten about the Trifecta and the bad old days. Hanukah and Christmas have been a lot more fun since I had children—even when Sarah was young and had no interest in presents because of her autism, it was still an improvement on previous holiday seasons. The Elisofon family still had fun singing and lighting the menorah, and Max excitedly tore into his gifts each year.
New Year’s Eve has been more fun since Henry became my “steady date.” Now we have dinner with or without Max and Sarah, and sometimes with their dates too. Henry and I are lucky if we can stay awake till midnight. Usually we dine close to home on New Year’s Eve, to avoid competing for non-existent cabs in cold weather. Sometimes we take our chances and watch the fireworks at my best friend’s house and get a lift home.
Yes, most of the Trifecta has lost its bite. But somehow Thanksgiving still stirs up the old holiday tension. Instead of fighting about my jobs and dating status, there are new minefields. When will Max find a full-time job? (Yes, I see the irony.) Will Sarah join the family conversation or simply perseverate over the food? Perhaps my biggest worry is whether my mother will order a second martini and start a fight. The chances of a fight are 50/50, unless my college friend, “Uncle Andy,” joins us. Somehow a witness keeps us all on good behavior.Luckily, Uncle Andy joined us for Thanksgiving this year, and we got off to a great start. Andy offered to pick up my mom in his new Rolls Royce. His driver, Michael, helped my mom in and out of the car so she wouldn’t fall (as she had done a few years ago) after dinner and two martinis. This year my mom only drank one martini, and instead of becoming argumentative—or stumbling into the car—she was entertaining.
Meanwhile Max was straining to see the face of a lithe young woman in her 20’s who stood up at the table next to ours. Her face was hidden by a curtain of long, chestnut hair.
My mom, who had a better angle, followed Max’s gaze and answered his unspoken question. “NOT pretty,” she declared a bit too loudly. At 86, she has suffered hearing loss, but her mind remains razor sharp.Max looked embarrassed, but the restaurant was sufficiently noisy that nobody heard her.
“But Sarah dear, you look beautiful.” My mom complimented my daughter on her weight loss. “And I love your hair long. It’s very becoming.”
Sarah glowed. “Thank you, Grandma.” She had been dieting since May and after losing more than 30 pounds, looked lovely in her new, fitted, velvet dress. She was careful to stay on her diet and order her turkey dinner without cranberry sauce or gravy, but she didn’t make a big deal out of it.“After dinner, you’ll see the coats we bought in Turkey,” Henry advised my mother. “You’ll tell us what you think.” My mom has always considered herself a fashionista.
“Oh, I don’t want to eat turkey,” my mom replied. “I just had turkey yesterday, and I’m not crazy about it.”
We all laughed. Obviously, she hadn’t heard us. We all knew my mother didn’t like turkey. She’d already asked for the grilled salmon as she did every year.
“Grandma, I’d like to interview you for one of my films,” Max suggested. “You’d make a great character.”
“I’m available almost any time,” my Mom offered. Atrial fibrillation and severe arthritis keep her at home most of the time nowadays.
On the way out of the restaurant, my mother didn’t say much about our new coats from Turkey. “Lovely. Wear them in good health.” The subtext, as always, was that they did not meet her exacting standards.
What really wowed my mom was Andy’s new Rolls Royce. Inside there was a black ceiling scattered with sparkling lights that looked like stars. What could be better than to be seated in great comfort and chauffeured home under your own private sky?
As I walked home with the rest of my family, I made a wish: Please let next Thanksgiving be like this one: peaceful and entertaining. Perhaps I’ll even forget about the old Trifectas.