Hassan, Bashar and a family tradition in Detroit

The confluence of Thanksgiving and Hanukka makes for an even more interesting holiday get-together.

Shwayder family Thanksgiving Turkeys 370 (photo credit: Maya Shwayder)
Shwayder family Thanksgiving Turkeys 370
(photo credit: Maya Shwayder)
DETROIT – The turkeys this year were named Hassan and Bashar.
The annual Naming of the Turkeys is a tradition passed down from my mother’s family that my father’s family gleefully adopted. In past years we’ve graced our plates and palates with the likes of Rove Turkey, Cheney Turkey, Muammar Turkey and Saddam Turkey.
Borderline cannibalistic? Obviously partisan? Maybe.
But what is Thanksgivukka without a bit of familial controversy, a la Iran’s Ruhani and Syria’s Assad? Holidays in my family are always big production numbers.
When I say “production number,” think Broadway level productions of Hello, Dolly!. There are furs, glitter, grand pianos, grand descending staircases and, yes, occasional random bursts of song.
The traditional American Thanksgiving schedule of a meal at 2:30 p.m. followed by an afternoon of football-watching, a nap and then a race to Walmart to buy a new television would be far too gauche for our silk-scarf wearing family matriarch.
My grandma is nothing if not a holdover from the age when one did not throw parties; one entertained, like Lady Grantham on Downton Abbey, except Jewish and with a distinct lack of handsome footmen.
This year, Grandma got to, of course, combine Hanukka and Thanksgiving decors: massive fruit-and-squash centerpieces mingled with dreidels and chocolate gelt on the dining room spread. The applesauce and cranberries were both in abundance (although not mixed together), and the latkes were served as a steaming hot side for Hassan (Bashar is being saved for second Thanksgiving, a.k.a. the leftovers dinner on Friday night).
The Shwayder Family Thanksgiving, 2013The Shwayder Family Thanksgiving, 2013
Like many other American families, Jewish and not, we have several age-old traditions that are always honored at Thanksgiving, including the Raving Right- Wing Uncle, the Interrogation of the Young People; the Teasing of the Vegetarians; and the Reciting of Prayers to Make the Non- Religious Feel Uncomfortable.
The prayer recitation this year was accompanied by unusually loud complaints about the food getting cold, as we had to say all the prayers over the menorah, and then bless the bread and wine. The fact that this took probably 60 seconds longer than in other years was absolutely unacceptable to the non-religious faction. To avoid further confrontation, the small menorah was taken off of the main table and placed on a sideboard.
Raving Right-Wing Uncle this year decided to somewhat eschew politics and instead tell the story about the time he ran into a motorcade of lesbians in the West Village.
“I swear it was dykes on bikes!” he shouted at full throttle across the room.
“And they had this table that they dragged out of this bar that the lead dykes were standing on the table holding this baby shouting ‘Aaaooh!’ ‘Aaaaoh!’ It was absolutely incredible!” R.R.W.U. was seated directly next to Grandma while telling this story; she smiled pleasantly and did her level best not to listen.
I was thankful to escape the Interrogation of the Young People. My two sisters-in-law, one of whom is newly pregnant, were not so fortunate, and the evening ended with the younger of the two, a stem cell researcher, explaining the intricacies of epigenetics to another uncle. This, obviously, was not what said uncle was going for, since the real question in all these interrogations was simply, “So when are you going to start reproducing for us?” The annual Teasing of the Vegetarians was much subdued.
For one, the number of vegetarians in the family has almost reached quorum such that tofurkey might be lobbed at heads if the teasing were to occur. For two, this year there was the addition of latkes and applesauce to the menu to satisfy everyone.
This year we also honored the annual arrival of the branch of the family that bursts into the house an hour and a half after dinner starts, announcing that, oopsies, they still have to make the dish they promised to prepare in advance.
We had a few other new events to add to the roster this year. Because we were in a rare situations where all branches of the family were present, including the rarelyseen California and New York contingents, this meant pictures had to be taken! But not just any pictures. There were staged pictures, with several fancy cameras on tripods! And rows of people sitting and kneeling and standing and waiting while others ducked in and out of the shot to get their picture on their device. There were duplicates and triplicates, rearrangements of various people, multiple blinding flash bulbs and “silly poses” while everyone became increasingly less comfortable with standing so close while being so sober.
At several points in the evening, a few family members had to wander downstairs to check on my brother’s blind dog, which was in the basement, audibly banging into walls. The dog never did find its way to the ground floor.
Then came my favorite Hanukka tradition of all: The Ripping of the Wrapping Paper.
In the old days, when I was a wee little one, all the grandchildren would go tearing through the house on a scavenger hunt to find their presents. Now, at the advanced age of 25, with a little too much tryptophan and frying oil in my system, I sat and looked around at the clans of my family enjoying the feeling of fullness after a large turkey dinner and gazing at their new holiday acquisitions.
It was then that I finally realized what Thanksgivukka really is: a kind of Christmas, but with fewer trees in the living room.
So until the year 2070, when Thanksgiving will again overlap with Hanukka, from my family to yours, gobble tov!