Family Feasts and Rituals

We’re gearing up for Thanksgiving dinner already — tonight is pie production, because Thanksgiving dinner is nothing if not a pie delivery system.  This year we’re only doing three pies (cherry, apple, and pumpkin) because there are only going to be four of us at the table.  Come Christmas, when all three of the unmarried offspring will be temporarily in residence, we will be doing at least four pies (the current loadout, plus blueberry, and quite possibly some kind of chocolate cream pie as an extra.)

One of the things that a lot of science fiction and secondary-world fantasy often lacks, in my opinion, is this kind of tradition-laden family gathering.  Partly it’s because the protagonists of science-fictional and fantastic stories are so often loners, either by circumstance or by choice — they’re orphans, or they’re wanderers of one sort or another, or they’re estranged from whatever relatives they’ve got.  (Which is a pity, I think; nothing complicates life, or a plot, like family.)  But partly, I suspect, it’s because making up plausible and consistent holidays and family rituals that are convincingly alien but nevertheless feel like the real thing . . . is hard work.

(This is also where I like to give a nod to one of my favorite fictional Thanksgivings, the season four episode “Pangs” of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  It has everything, from the manic freakouts over getting the traditional recipes exactly right, to a look at some of the more problematic historical and cultural issues surrounding the holiday, culminating in a shared meal where everybody — even the captive vampire tied to a chair — is entitled to a seat at the table.)

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