Norman Rockwell’s iconic Thanksgiving illustration, “Freedom from Want,” for the March 6, 1943 edition (true fact!) of the Saturday Evening Post. It generated some controversy at the time since so many people in Europe during the war were battling starvation. (Wikimedia Commons)
This is a favorite of mine, but I’ve always worried about the woman (a grandmother?) in this painting, because she’s about to set down an 18 lb. turkey into a very small space on the table, and more than likely she’s going to have terrible back problems the next morning. But, ignoring that, what works here is the joy and interest on the faces of the family (all of whom were Rockwell family members, photographed earlier and then painted into the scene), and their delight in being in each other’s company. That’s what we hope to have on Thanksgiving; that’s what we remember from past Thanksgivings – coziness, warmth, hugs, comfort (the whole Danish concept of Hygge). Of course under cover of all this familial joy may be lurking envy, resentment, animosity, years of grudges, sarcasm and spitefulness, but it’s best not dwell on these matters when we hope for something far better.
I worry about a couple of other things in the painting. Who’s going to carve? And how – with the table jammed with people? Plus, where’s all the rest of the food? We have some celery stalks, enough cranberry sauce for maybe three people, a covered casserole (silver!) with something unknown in it, and a decorative bowl of fruit. That’s not enough to feed this crowd!
If things get slow…
With all the cooking and preparation and table-setting, it’s not likely that guests will need a diversion before eating. But if conversation lags during the meal, or if people don’t seem to be having enough fun, here’s a game I’ve played a few times that takes only ten or fifteen minutes and can be quite revealing:
GUESS WHO I AM
Everyone gets a Post-it and a pencil or pen. The task? Write down something about yourself that you don’t think anyone at the table knows about you. Something simple and harmless like “I’ve never been to a McDonald’s” or “I went for a thrill ride with Paul Newman.” (True for me). Avoid confessional statements like “I’m far too attracted to many men,” which a woman friend decided to write down years ago, and then left in a cloud of red-faced chagrin very soon after she was identified.
When everyone’s finished, collect the Post-its, jumble them up, and start reading them. The group needs to guess who the writer is and, if several people do, the writer must own up to it. That’s about the only rule – it’s pretty free and easy, and there are no winners or losers.
After dinner, you might chose to play —
This game takes a bit of work ahead of time for the Thanksgiving host. Pick about ten ordinary, everyday objects in the house and “hide them in plain sight” in some location where they just don’t belong. Like, a small cereal box could go in a bookcase. A brown sock could cover a wooden chair leg. A rubber band could go nearly everywhere. A hot dog could go on a fireplace mantel as part of a decoration. A dollar bill could be taped to a book jacket. The idea is to make them easily viewable and completely exposed so players don’t need to move or open anything to find them.
Now, everyone gets a piece of paper with all the objects listed on the left side, with room to write down its location to the right. Divide a large group into a few teams, or people can play individually, then start the game. The first team or person to locate all ten is the winner – or, after a time limit of say 20 minutes, the one with the most “finds” is the winner.
The trick to this is for players not to jump up and down and shout with glee that they located, say, the sock, since it tips off the competition. Players need to be cool and calm when they make a discovery.
I’ve done this game several times and it’s always a hit.
Have a great Thanksgiving full of hygge! Have a good time, give a good time.