A Different Kind of Thanksgiving
It’s different this year.
Through the years, I’ve spent several holidays away from family. As a young newspaper reporter, I lacked the seniority needed to score the Friday after Thanksgiving off. So for several years, while living in Michigan, my husband and I hosted “orphan Thanksgivings” where we invited anyone we knew who would also be alone on that holiday – the office interns, the new families that just moved to town, my newspaper colleagues who were equally seniority-challenged and
also had to rise at 4 am to cover Black Friday shopping sprees and the other non-news of the start of the holiday season.
It was sad but unavoidable, those holidays far from family, but my husband and I made the best of it. There was the year I made my first turkey, oblivious that a frozen bird would take days to defrost. With an apartment-full of guests on their way, I stuck the half-frozen carcass of the oversized bird in the oven, and my friends later marveled at what was definitely the juiciest turkey breast any of us had ever had. Later that night, when I carved up the rest of the bird, I thanked God that we never got to the dark meat, which might as well still had a pulse it was so undercooked. Sometimes luck favors the blissfully ignorant.
Looking back on those Thanksgivings, I am grateful for what they taught me – that you can recreate your traditions, that family extends beyond blood, that you can make any day special as long as you have the right intent.
But this year, 2020, the COVID year, is different. My sister is gathering at her house, just 15 minutes away, and my family and I chose not to join her. Same with my husband’s extended family. We are so close, but are purposely distanced. In an effort at self-preservation, at social responsibility, and out of an abundance of paranoia, we have decided to celebrate a different Thanksgiving: smaller, quieter, but important nonetheless.
As I planned for this day, I used those skills I learned all those years ago, which are rooted in one idea: When all else is impossible, make the best of what you have. So my husband, kids, and I each selected one dish to make for today’s feast. My son made homemade dinner rolls. My daughter made apple pie. My husband made twice-baked potatoes, a new entry into our Thanksgiving line up. And I made the turkey, my grandmother’s stuffing, my mother’s gravy – the relics of my past that help to bring all of those people and experiences into my present.
I consider myself blessed to have even this small gathering, because I know even this is more than many have on this day. My heart aches for the people who are mourning those lost, for the sick who can’t be visited, for the isolated who I, in other times, would have gladly welcomed to my own table.
But I stay focused on what we can learn from this, what we are teaching our children, and how much perspective these challenges provide. It was only by being alone in a faraway state that I learned the importance of building your own community. When someone invited us to their family’s Christmas celebration, I realized how important a gift companionship can be.
When I look at my kids adapting to this different celebration, my heart swells with pride.
Resilience is one of the greatest lessons we can teach our children, and I hope someday if they find themselves in a place or time where their traditions or rhythms are out of whack, they remember these days and know they can readjust.
My bird is in the oven. The stuffing is baked; the cranberries have gelled. My daughter is rolling out her pie crust. I’ve found myself in this strange moment of repose, where I’m writing and enjoying a glass of wine and appreciating the ability to sit, to reflect, and to slow down.
Dinner will come soon, along with family Zooms and that pang of regret for the choices we’ve been forced to make and the gentle squeeze around the heart that happens when you realize how much you miss the ones you love.
But let me live in this moment for a moment. When wonderful smells fill the house, my kids are both under the same roof, and everyone is safe and healthy. Yes, this year is different. But different teaches us more lessons than repetition does. Different teaches us to adapt, to get creative, to overcome.
I hope you are all making the best of your different Thanksgiving. And looking forward to how much more we’ll appreciate the next one, in 2021, when we’ll take what we’ve learned and, with any luck, be better for it.