Feasting before the Fast, Thanksgiving at SVOTS

Sarah Bracey-Johnson

Thanksgiving is a classic example of how time flows here St. Vladimir’s. Other institutions may experience it in a roughly linear fashion. Here it pools and eddies, and occasionally it seems to be going backward. Thus it is only natural that we celebrate Thanksgiving well in advance of the fourth Thursday of November—2 weeks early to be specific—so as to avoid the dilemma faced by many Orthodox Christians in America, i.e. how to smile convincingly and say “Pass the Tofurky” while your second cousin is gnawing on a drumstick and your great aunt is daintily downing gravy-drowned mashed potatoes. The whole community piles into the Metropolitan Phillip Auditorium, transformed from a lecture hall to a giant dining room, to celebrate and give thanks with feasting and fellowship. This year I gained a new appreciation for what it takes to prepare one of these yearly extravaganzas when I went from being a member of Meal Crew #3 (go Wolverines!) to being the assistant to the Special Events Coordinator.

My first assignment was to procure the decorations. Simple, I thought, I’ll just run over to the dollar tree and pick up a few festive table cloths and napkins and we’ll be all set. Of course I put this off as assignments piled up. I’ve got plenty of time, I told myself. About a week before SVOTS Thanksgiving (Election Day, to be specific), I was given my first test of the Thanksgiving spirit when I got a call from my husband Charlie—the car broke down while he was out on assignment, the transmission had to be replaced, and you know Westchester prices. Had this been an animated film a cartoon angel would have flown across the top of the screen with a banner reading: “In every thing give thanks…”

A week and several borrowed rides later we had a working vehicle and I was all set to go on my mini-shopping spree. I should mention that I hate shopping. Thankfully my friend Mandy, one of the SVOTS spouses, was willing to come along and prevent me from melting into a pool of indecision, or simply choosing the ugliest thing I found simply because it was closest to the checkout line. Little did we suspect that the dollar stores in Yonkers were also experiencing time warps—they were already celebrating Christmas.

After failing to find anything non-green, red, and tinsel related, we moved on, ironically enough, to the Christmas Tree Shops (one store, not many) where we found the discount autumnal ware in assorted patterns for just $1 each. I picked up one of the plastic-wrapped table cloths.

“What size do we need?” Mandy asked.

“Um...Chef said banquet sized, whatever that means.” We stared at the packet. There were some dimensions, but no helpful captions like “This is the size you’re looking for” or “Buy me.” Then a total stranger paused while fishing napkins out of the bin and said, “Oh, banquet size, that’s…” she gave us some numbers. “These aren’t the right size.”

We stared at them some more. “Well,” I said, “we could just use two per table and overlap them.” So we bought out the most abundant pattern and some napkins to match (most of them were buried beneath the Turkey-patterned dessert plates) and moved on to table decorations. Our options were as follows: straw men on sharp stakes, cardboard pumpkins covered in orange glitter and flat-as-pancakes potpourri bags. Needless to say, we moved on. Here I’ll put in a plug for Trader Joe’s grocery store which had 69¢ gourds that looked to me to be only mildly cancerous.

Thus armed, and with the help of many other students and assorted kids, the stage was set, and during the Akathist “Glory to God for All Things” we assembled the main attractions: "Ladies and Gentlemen, starting from the door we have the food table with its rice, turkey, yams, cranberry sauce, salad bowl, salad dressing, where are the croutons?? more cranberry sauce, yams, turkey, rice, and the drink bar. 'Yes'—to all of you who asked, 'Is there wine at this event?'."

But it didn’t look complete until church let out and the room was filled by the members of the community—students and spouses talking, laughing, kids playing tea party under the appetizer table, faculty members donning aprons to serve the meal. That’s when it really felt like the family gathering that it was, and I finally remembered to be thankful for being a part of it.

See the photo gallery by Tanya Hoff of the Pre-Thanksgiving Community Meal.