In 2014, I wrote a post entitled “10 Things I Hate About You, Thanksgiving,” lamenting everything from the bottom half of the Macy’s Parade to my nitpicking of historical inaccuracies in the current customary menu.
That was five years ago.
While many things stay constant, there is much that can change in our personal opinions in just a few years’ time, including my feelings for this American November holiday and how we observe it in our home.
With Thanksgiving arriving in less than a week, I’ve decided to create a sequel, of sorts, with “10 Things I Love About Our Thanksgiving” that has been five years in the making:
The Fall Leaves
I can’t speak for other areas, but I live in the desert where the look of autumn takes a little more time to show up. I am often envious of images of places where fall leaves paint a quilt of color over the landscape earlier in the season. October here is still pretty green and warm, with just a hint of trees starting to change, and by the time December hits, winter (regardless of the temperature) has shaken most trees bare until spring. This means if I want to enjoy the colors of fall, I have to do it in November. Right after Halloween, it seems like clockwork we start to see the leaves really begin to show their reds, yellows, oranges, and browns. By the time Thanksgiving week arrives, everything is vibrant and beautiful. I have learned to appreciate this being the one holiday where I can look out my window and see this.
The Down Time
With a busy Halloween month, and even busier Christmas and New Year season for us, my family has long made Thanksgiving a no-travel, quiet, lazy week. At the end of the semester in our house, the school break is appreciated, but the days zoom by with family visits, church obligations, festivals, last minute shopping, and gift prepping. No obligations are required during their week off before Thanksgiving, other than making sure we get everything we need for the dinner. Since it is usually just our small family, we don’t have to take into consideration what extended family can’t or won’t eat or cleaning the house for guests. Thanksgiving evening for us can consist of going to a movie or playing a board game, without the need to make any awkward small talk; that time will come soon enough.
We’ve had friends and family join us for our dinners—there’s always room at the table for guests—but we don’t ever have a huge house full. I’ll save that for other holidays and summertime visits.
Since the weather and the views are so optimal and everyone is off for the week, we can finally “gather together,” grab the dog, and get outside. Every family is different, but for us, family walks are a perfect time to talk about our lives, problems, hopes, and dreams, or just share interesting stories. The looser schedule allows us to also go beyond our favorite usual routes and discover neighborhoods or trails completely new to us. It’s like being Bilbo Baggins heading out and proclaiming, “I’m going on an adventure!”
No Need for Presents
Sure, we have to cook a special meal, but there’s no stockings or baskets to fill. No presents to exchange with every friend, family member, and coworker. No giant bags of Halloween candy for everyone in the neighborhood (and several other surrounding areas), and no birthday cards or tokens of appreciation are necessary. Maybe I have to bring a dessert or side to a potluck, but we have to do that kind of thing on game nights with friends at any time of the year. We don’t even have to put a bow on it, like do when we exchange holiday or Christmas cookies. No one cares how sparkly it looks, as long as they can eat it.
It’s a Breather From Holiday Decorating
I take full responsibility for being an over-the-top type when it comes to decorating for special occasions, but I seriously doubt I’m the only one. If I didn’t take a nice, slow break between Halloween and Christmas, I would likely drive myself and everyone I know crazy. The Thanksgiving season gives me an excuse to put off Christmas decorations until a reasonable time. We can put out a pumpkin without having to carve it, and there doesn’t need to be any large holiday and Christmas displays during Thanksgiving. I toss out a few little fake leaves on the mantle and in the front entrance and call it good. I know people who have what I call the “Jack Skellington” bug. The second the Halloween haunts are put away, the Christmas lights go up. Not me. I like to take things one holiday at a time and enjoy the calm between the storms for about a month. This way, I am more than ready for December fun.
One Word: Desserts
I mentioned in my origin post all the gripes I have with a Thanksgiving meal, including how bland and unimaginative they can be. Well, in our own homes, there’s no one to blame but us for this. There are no Thanksgiving Police checking every person’s home in the United States to make sure we adhere to a strict menu. We can shake things up a little and get creative. This includes the plain old pies. We do get or make one or two of the “classics” (pumpkin, pecan, etc.), but we also try to make a completely different, new pie, cake, or another dessert item we’ve never before tried. We can spend some time looking through cookbooks or internet food sites for something that looks good. This year, I found an old Ghirardelli Chocolate cookbook I picked up years ago in San Francisco, and there will be something from it on our Thanksgiving table.
The Day After!
I have come to realize that as we get old as a family, we aren’t slowing down. Sleeping in has become a distant memory, it seems. My youngest is already an early riser, but even on weekends, we have extracurricular obligations, volunteer obligations, church, chores, and an array of other things that keep us going. After Christmas, there is usually visiting family, so we can’t lounge around too long. Summer if constantly activity-filled as well. Yet, the day after Thanksgiving, nobody has anything going. We can get up leisurely and pad around in slippers and jammies as long as we like. Nothing feels better than dropping in bed Thanksgiving night and knowing we don’t have to “sleep fast” so we can get up in time for something.
The Hidden Treasure Hunt
I mentioned in my first Thanksgiving post how much I can’t stand the shopping frenzy of Black Friday, but we do like go out on Friday at some point that day. When we do, we use the fact the malls and big stores are going to be packed as an excuse to find little local shops or eateries we never took the time to visit. Usually, there’s a cool art market over the weekend somewhere in our area, and since Thanksgiving has officially passed, we can get in the cozy holiday and Christmas spirit. These types of events and places can be easy to overlook when a large commercial venue is convenient. When that option just seems unbearable, we can remember to support and visit our local artisans and shops.
The Anticipation of the Next Season
I do love the “down time,” but once Thanksgiving is over, there’s nothing stopping the Christmas and holiday season wave. We might as well jump on and enjoy the ride. It is always on Thanksgiving weekend when we put up our outside lights, knowing the inside decorating will follow in about a week. If our daughters get restless over the weekend, I make them sit down to write what they want for Christmas (within reason), and we look at the calendar for what events are coming up over December.
I also use this time to either purchase a new advent calendar (I’m partial to LEGO sets) or put one together. FYI: GeekMom Sarah had some clever ideas for advent calendar inspiration.
Of course, not everybody celebrates Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I hope this last list item is one everyone can appreciate.
The Very Word “Thanks”
We live in a time of social media where we are constantly reminded about how much attention and acknowledgment we each deserve. We each need a special day, a special month, or a special event the celebrates whatever we happen to be. Something that shouts “Me! Me! Me!” That’s all well and good, but every time I use the word “Thanksgiving,” I am reminded to just the opposite. Take some time not to think about what we deserve but what we have.
Poet and Holocaust survivor Holocaust Elie Wiesel reminded us, “When a person doesn’t have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity.”
I am often guilty of forgetting this, but each November, a holiday starting with the world “Thanks” stands right in front of me, making sure I remember.
I talked about how people like to argue about holiday origins, politics, or religion at this time, and it always bothers me that families just don’t put these things aside to appreciate the variety of ideas and personalities that make every family colorful.
In the past five years since I talked about the things I “hate” about Thanksgiving, I have come to realize how lucky I am to be able to gripe about such trivial matters. Whether Thanksgiving brings me guests and parties or just a simple family meal, I make sure to use this time of year to be thankful for it all: from the food on my plate to the wonderful people around my table.
And this, more than anything, is what I love about Thanksgiving.