Once upon a time, Thanksgiving morning would have started with me leaping out of bed to hurriedly scrub myself in the shower. It would have still been pitch black outside.
After throwing some clothes on, I would have rushed to the kitchen to be greeted by the welcome aroma of various Thanksgiving dishes being prepared well in advance. My mother would briefly acknowledge my presence before turning back to the oven to check on the turkey’s progress.
Rising before daylight to start the holiday meal preparations has been an ironclad tradition among my family’s women; it has spanned countless generations. I grew up watching my mother and grandmother observe it year after year.
In between clandestine spoon lickings and the occasional five-finger discount from temporarily neglected baking trays, I would inquire about their strange holiday rituals. With sweat tracing their brows and a look of satisfaction veiling their faces, they’d confidently confirm that this was simply how it had always been done.
Even though I had always found myself to be a bit of a rebel when it came to observing such traditions, it seemed highly unlikely that I would ever escape the customary 3 AM rising to cook on holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. But this wasn’t the only thing that I had expected to live out in my future; I’d anticipated many of my typical holiday arrangements to remain permanent structures through the ages.
For instance, there was the gathering and feasting of my family to look forward to.
Between my mother and grandmother’s cooking and my aunt’s plentiful findings from the Asian market, Thanksgiving (among other holidays) was usually a food event to put all other feasts in modern history to shame. With counters and tables chock full of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, homemade rolls, and a host of other side dishes, salads, and baked desserts, my family would all gather at my grandparents’ house to share a meal that would undoubtedly leave us rolling out of our chairs.
After coming together to bless the food, we would all sit down with overflowing china plates and allow laughter and conversation to further season our meal. But once the forks ceased to fly and the cheerful talking became sparse, the men of the family would slowly start to vanish from the dining room–one by one. It was such a common mystery that I could never quite understand why I bothered pretending to be surprised by it.
As though they were being raptured away, the men would silently rise from the table to slink off to my grandfather’s man cave. Once there, they would watch ESPN from overstuffed leather sofas before sleepily nursing their overstuffed midsections.
Meanwhile, the women would be left to clean up everything.
Still being fairly young and not at all understanding how gender politics worked in my family, I would scowl at my male relative’s backs as I took pity on myself for not being able to vanish alongside them. Despite me feeling like an underage indentured servant whose only “payment” would be a slice of pie, the womenfolk of my family had a highly efficient system of cleaning up that would leave things spic and span in (almost) no time at all.
Of course, clearing dishes and platters after eating such a large meal was never the most comfortable task in the world. With a house full of the perspiration of an overworked oven and the body heat of twelve well-fed humans, it always seemed like a miracle that we were able to wipe, sweep, and scrub as much as we did right after eating. If the heat hadn’t taken us out, the turkey surely should have, but somehow, someway, the kitchen always returned to its customary pristine state right before the men resurfaced for the cutting of the pies and cakes.
After shamelessly stuffing ourselves with more conversation and a few helpings too many of dessert, we would all break off into different groups to enjoy a leisurely Thanksgiving afternoon. My grandmother, mother, and aunts would usually sit in the family room talking about everything they could possibly think of. My grandfather, father, and uncles would usually regroup in the mancave to inspect and marvel over the latest electronic gadget my grandfather had purchased for himself. Meanwhile, the best gathering of the day had to be the one orchestrated by the children of the family.
From afternoon until the old grandfather clock in the hall let out eight or nine brassy gongs, my cousins and I would spend time lounging around in our grandparents’ room. When I wasn’t busy trading childish insults with my eldest male cousin or gossiping with the only female cousin I could seek refuge from the boys with, I could usually be found yelling at the TV with my youngest cousin as we played whatever video game console we were obsessed with at the time.
After tiring of our gaming marathons, we’d all sneak to the kitchen and pilfer a ridiculous amount of cookies and homemade fudge to munch on before running back to the master bedroom to watch South Park. And if we were really lucky (as we typically were), our grandparents would each pop in to spoil us with crisp twenty dollar bills that were so fresh and ripe for spending they still smelled like a bank vault.
Eventually, Thanksgiving would wind to a satisfying close. As the sweets in our stomachs began to finally settle and yawns started echoing through the room, we all began to dread the inevitable. One by one, our parents would poke their heads through the doorway to announce that it was time for us to start gathering up our belongings for the drive home. Being kids, we hated being torn apart after having so much fun together. After all, major holidays are the only time we all met under one roof.
Nonetheless, we’d pack up our video games and shove our feet back into our shoes as we excitedly chattered about what fun we’d have come Christmas. Even before we knew what presents we’d get, Thanksgiving was when we decided who would bring the latest gaming console to our upcoming Christmas get together– providing they got one.
After deciding upon who would ask for which game, we’d run out to meet our families in the driveway where everyone was saying goodbyes that always took far longer than necessary. I’d usually fall asleep on the ride home, but I did so with a big smile on my face.
Thanksgiving went on like this for many, many years… until it didn’t.
Life has changed quite a bit since those happy, carefree days. Things have evolved in such a way that it seems as though the story I just told you is nothing more than a fairytale or urban myth.
My family no longer gets together for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any other holiday. In fact, we no longer speak to one another at all. Although I hate to admit it, I often doubt that any one of us would acknowledge the other’s existence if we were to randomly pass each other on the street. In my heart, I know I would try to, but… perhaps some things are better left alone.
So, for reasons that deeply pain me and fill me with an irreconcilable amount of confusion and regret, I highly doubt that we shall ever find such joy in each other’s company on Thanksgiving or any holiday again.
With no big Thanksgiving family gathering planned for today, there was no need for my mother to fire up the stove at the crack of dawn. With nowhere in particular to go and no one in particular to see, I will not spend much time figuring out the best outfit to wear this morning; leggings and a poorly matched shirt is totally fine by me.
The sweet scent of orange rolls baking in the oven isn’t what woke me up so early this morning, but the distant and fading memory of the Thanksgiving I once enjoyed– the Thanksgiving I deeply wish to recreate should I ever have a family of my own one day.
As someone who is all about family and togetherness, this Thanksgiving is a far cry from what I would have ever intended for it to look like. If I’d had it my way, I’d have been happy to carry on with my family’s Thanksgiving traditions; I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Yet, when I found myself awake at three o’clock this morning, I sat in the dark realizing that I had woken up early for nothing.
For a fleeting moment, a searing sadness crept upon me as I reflected upon the emptiness of my home and the simplicity of my Thanksgiving plans. No turkey. No house full of people. No games being played. Just a quiet, laid back meal with my parents before making a date with Netflix. But as I sat up in bed and contemplated the disappointment I felt, a sense of peaceful acceptance came over me and I began to thank God for not only what is, but also for what was.
As much as I wish that this Thanksgiving could look like the cover of a Martha Stewart magazine or the glossy facade of a Hallmark card, I accept and appreciate my life as it currently stands. No, it isn’t my personal vision of “perfect”, but I know that it would probably look like heaven to so many people who don’t have a fraction of what I do to be grateful for.
There isn’t a day that goes by without me sincerely thanking God for allowing me to find joy in the people (and animals!) that remain in my life. Of course, I give thanks for my material possessions as well, but for me, my family and friends were always my most valued treasure.
And for better or for worse, they still are.
To no longer have the same group of people around me to celebrate this day is definitely disheartening, but I deeply appreciate having had them in my life at all. Despite what may have taken place in recent years, I still find value in the memories we made together, the memories they were actively apart of. Their presence in my life undoubtedly helped to shape the woman I am today, and since I love the person I have become, I give thanks today for every single person who has ever entered my life.
Whether our interactions were positive, negative, or somewhere in-between, I took them all in as lessons. Lessons in how to love. Lessons in how not to hate. These lessons showed me how to live, love, win, and lose with unfaltering grace. I thank God for this unique brand of education each and every day just as I thank Him for having given me the strength to pull through life’s tougher lessons without flunking out.
It was really on my heart to share this story with you guys today, so perhaps one of you may be in need of some encouragement concerning thanksgiving and gratitude. I suppose if I had to convey a central message to you all it would just be to give thanks for all things, everyday. I know life can get busy and super crazy at times, but I hope Thanksgiving Day isn’t the only day we make time to reflect upon the hidden blessings of our lives.
If you don’t already, I pray that you can make it a common practice to search your heart daily, looking for things you have been blessed with that may otherwise go overlooked.
Thank God for past hardships for He has seen you through to the other side.
Thank Him for people who have mistreated you for He has given you an example of how not to treat others.
Thank Him for the dreams you have yet to realize for it means that this world still has so much more joy and excitement to offer you.
Thank Him for your limitations and inadequacies for you will make the most ideal candidate for His glory and might to be demonstrated.
And if you cannot find a single good thing or person in your life to be grateful for, thank Him for the breath in your lungs and the eyes to read this post.
No matter how disappointing things in our lives may seem at times, we must always be thankful for the gift of life. Where there is life there is always possibility. The possibility to be a blessing to someone else, for instance.
As long as you have a pulse, you have a purpose, so always be grateful for the opportunity to search for what that purpose is. After all, you are the person who was specifically created to fulfill it.
I hope this post finds you all well. I wish you a most blessed and gratitude-filled Thanksgiving. Much love to you all. ❤
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