Just in case I’ve never mentioned it before, Thanksgiving is probably my absolute favorite holiday.
Confession: I feel more than slightly guilty when I say that. Isn’t Christmas supposed to be everyone’s favorite holiday? At least, every Christian’s favorite holiday? While I love celebrating the birth of Christ, I’m going to be honest and say that all of the hoopla surrounding the holiday (not holy day) can be exhausting and frustrating and it is easy to lose focus on what really matters. There. I said it.
When saying that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, I have to explain that it’s not just because of the food. The food is great, but for me I think it’s the sharing of the food that really makes me love Thanksgiving.
My memories of Thanksgivings past are vivid and wonderful. As a little girl growing up at the tail end of a large family, Thanksgiving weekend was a time I could look forward to seeing all of my big brothers and sisters sitting around the table. I had siblings headed off to college and missions from the time I started kindergarten, so it was a big deal for me when we were all together. I loved hearing my siblings try to outdo each other with tales of their adventures, and hearing my parents’ responses. I truly enjoyed the noise and laughter and comfort of knowing that everyone I loved in the world was there in the same room.
My parents had an interesting way to fill the spaces at our table during the years when some family members were too far from home to return for Thanksgiving dinner. My father had a connection with someone who worked with international students attending the nearby university. Dad would get his friend to introduce him to several students, and then he would invite them to join us for Thanksgiving. We shared our traditional dinner with young adults from all over the world–Korea, Iran, and Taiwan are just a few of the nationalities I can remember. One year, a graduate student from Brazil, along with his wife and children were invited, and that began a close friendship between our two families. I remember how good my father was at drawing out conversation from the sometimes shy students. It was fascinating to me to hear them tell about their families and traditions and the politics of their home countries. I’m incredibly grateful to my parents for providing our family with such a fascinating introduction to the world outside our little mountain valley.
My mother spent days preparing for our Thanksgiving feast. Pies and cookies and rolls were baked in advance. Her china was carefully taken from the cabinet and washed. The turkey was thawed. The day before Thanksgiving, my mother would have me line up slices of soft, white bread onto cookie sheets.
I would go to bed the night before Thanksgiving and scarcely sleep as I anticipated the fun of the coming day. Long before dawn, I’d hear my mother and father stirring in the room next door, and I’d hop out of bed to join them in the kitchen. There, my dad would get the turkey ready to go in the oven, while my mother and I prepared the stuffing. I considered the making of the stuffing one of the most important parts of the day, the time when I felt like my mother’s most important assistant. I would tear the now-stale bread into little pieces, while Mom melted butter and added fragrant seasonings to the saucepan. She’d drizzle the herbed butter over the broken bread, and I would zestfully stir the heavenly scented mixture. That’s what I smell when I think of Thanksgiving. Once the turkey was stuffed, I would skip back to my room and snuggle contentedly in my blankets, savoring the smell of the stuffed turkey as it roasted in the wee hours of the morning.
Over the years, our family changed and grew with the addition of brother and sister in laws and nieces and nephews. But our family’s menu always remained constant: shrimp cocktail followed by turkey with fresh cranberry sauce, homemade gravy, creamy mashed potatoes, baked apples and sweet potatoes in orange glaze, made-from-scratch stuffing, warm rolls, frozen fruit salad, a relish tray, and dozens of homemade pies for dessert.
The last year I had Thanksgiving at home with my own family, I didn’t have an inkling that I wouldn’t be back for the following year, or the year after that, or the ten years after that. I celebrated Thanksgiving with my future inlaws the next year, just a few weeks before the Bionic Man and I married. And within a few months, I was living 4000 miles away. Since then, time and distance has never made it convenient or even possible for us to travel home for Thanksgiving.
For a couple of years, my pangs of homesickness were sharper at Thanksgiving than at any other time. And then, a Thanksgiving miracle happened. Our young family was “adopted” by a family with older children, and invited to share their Thanksgiving…and Christmas…and Easter…and birthdays…and suddenly we had holiday traditions again that involved a crowded table and laughter and lots of food and the warmth and love of a family. We made friends and memories we’ll cherish forever. When we moved away again, to a home with a large kitchen, we decided that it was our turn to share our bounty. And every year since, we’ve shared our meal with at least one other family (usually three or more) who are just as far from their families as we are. The tables groan with food, the grown ups try to outdo each other with tales of their parenting adventures, the children run amuck, and I make way too much food every year. It’s just the way I want it to be.
So today, as I tie on my apron and get ready to roll out the pie crust for not one or two but nine pies and bake endless batches of dinner rolls, I’m grinning from ear to ear. I have so much to be thankful for, and I’m so thrilled to be able to open my home and share that bounty with friends and family. (We have actual blood relatives in attendance this year, hooray!)