How did I get here, I thought.
Matching place settings, coordinating serving dishes, checking off menu items in my head to make sure there was enough for the vegetarians, pescatarians, gluten frees, keto, and nut allergy guests.
I don’t even like to cook—or eat, if I’m being completely honest. I break my 72-hour fasts with protein shakes and microwaved bone broth. And yet, there I was hosting Thanksgiving. I had poison control programmed on speed dial.
I paused to assess the eight-person formal dining room table that had yet to see a formal meal in the three years it had been stored in my dining room. I only bought it because the house I didn’t design was built with a formal dining room. It never occurred to me to change the function of the space to something that made more sense for my lifestyle (80 percent antisocial, 20 percent engaging), like an open space library with a drafting table and a crafting nook.
I wondered who made the rule about keeping things as they were designed in the first place. I didn’t know them, and they didn’t know me so why the allegiance to dead space?
Then came mental math with the chair count: only eight seats at the table for 25 guests. Do the “mature” aunties and uncles get seats at the table? But then the conversation is stratified by generation. And what about those who don’t regard themselves as elders or who want to sit with the younger folks? What about the folks who want to eat on the couch watching football? What age is “elder” anyway? Would someone get offended by the designation I chose for them even if my intention was out of respect?
I had enough seats throughout the living and dining room for everybody but only eight at the main table. Were designated seats even necessary or relevant at this point in time?
I started to think about the table tradition and why I was even wasting time trying to make it make sense. Cue “Rabbit Hole Adventures” as my mind started to wander.
Who gets priority seating at the table and why? What makes the table coveted? I thought to myself. And who made Sheryl Sandberg the expert on seating strategy for people like me in the first place, I detoured.
Communal dining goes back to the beginning of time as an opportunity to share resources, be social, and spend quality time with family and community. But lavish and opulent dining, with rules about fork order, social class, and contrived seating assignments, were designed and inspired by European empires. I haven’t run my Ancestry.com report, but the melanin in my mirror reflection and the “only” I see communicated on the faces of some who still struggle to acknowledge me in the corporate world, confirm my lack of European roots.
I couldn’t help but question my effort at entertaining the pain point of the seats at the table on this of all days. So, I respectfully chose to reflect from a different vantage point instead:
Who chose which Indigenous people got to sit at that table during those fateful first meals together?
Did they wait to be selected for seats after selflessly sharing their harvest and teaching those who would ultimately slaughter, violate, and “other” them, how to thrive?
Could they feel the empty promise of those first seats at the table in the same way many of us still feel it today?
Are there more lessons yet to be harvested in the perpetuation of tradition?
I thought back to how my favorite Harvest Day meals had always been about getting in where I fit in—be it with the little ones sitting on the floor to eat, friends perched on pub stools, family enjoying their meals on paper plates while standing up. The best part for me was that the whole experience was like musical chairs. I never worried when I lost my seat to go get seconds and thirds and fourths. It wasn’t a real loss. Rather, it gave me an opportunity to find a new seat with a different cluster of family and friends, while letting someone else enjoy time with the people I had just enjoyed.
By the end of the feast, I had caught up with everybody in a meaningful and authentic way. Scoring a seat on the couch, to rest my full stomach, was the real coveted spot.
The seat at the table, then and now, felt limiting and boring. The saga was like a bizarre mix of musical chairs and a corporate diversity seminar. I mean, seriously, who knew that designating spots could provoke internal dissonance? As I dug deeper into the history of who got the “coveted” spots at the table, it dawned on me that dining tradition, and diversity messaging, could use some retooling.
So, I’ve decided to revamp my hosting style, ditch the table politics, and embrace a “Harvest Day Mixer” vibe where everyone can feast, mingle, and snag that coveted couch spot—because honestly, that’s where the real MVPs sit anyway, am I right?