It's become a bit of a tradition (one that I look forward to each year!) to round up some reader-reported experiences of Thanksgivings past to share with you. From big group gatherings to solo celebrations, the lesson here is that there is no "one size fits all" when it comes to enjoying a day dedicated to being thoughtful and thankful. It truly is "all good". I hope you are enjoying your day...and that you'll enjoy the stories below (and possibly share your own in the comments for next years post!)
Break out the board games and the bubbly - one of my favorite Thanksgivings was me, my friend Abby and my Dad like little orphans at a horrible chain restaurant followed by a few friends wandering in later that night to get completely trashed playing Trivial Pursuit. Life isn't always a Hallmark card but with the right "oh what the hell" spirit, it is always an adventure!
In my family, my grandma always did a giant Thanksgiving for 60+ people followed by "leftovers" for the more immediate family (aunts, uncles, etc.) on Friday. When all the fuss became too much for her, my parents decided to take it on but changed the festivities to Friday (which we now call "Franksgiving.") I love it because it allows all of us to have double the holiday with other friends/family on Thursday.
In addition to changing to Friday, my dad decided that the event needed a schtick which has changed every year. One year we had a bacon theme— I made a bacon gingerbread house with a thatched bacon roof and a Slim-Jim chimney, my brother made bacon-infused bourbon... We hired a magician who lost a mouse in our house (the dog later found it!). We've had a film festival with contributions from each family member projected on a wall for all to see (plus popcorn!). There have been trivia nights, white elephant gift exchanges and craft bonanzas. This year we're going relatively more key with a simple photo booth set-up.
Franksgiving is now the holiday of legend... everyone is always asking what the next theme is and inevitably we get a few strays along for the ride. More the merrier! :)
When I was in grade school, my dad taught for a semester at the University of London. For Thanksgiving, my mom took my sister and me to the basement food court of Harrods to shop for hot dogs, the most American food we could think of and the only place we knew of that sold such exotic fare. It was 25 years ago, and we still talk about it every Thanksgiving.
Since I was little, I had Thanksgiving with my immediately family, some 40 years now and in the last 5 years, I was making some of the bigger dishes (turkey, gravy, cranberries, + potatoes). However, this year, with some ailments (both in my arms + family strains due to family illness), I decided to go camping with my boyfriend. Although my family was very quiet about my decision, the choice was important for my health and well being.
It was a little odd at first, when I was use to seeing everyone (15+), and going through all the motions of making a huge turkey, all the fixings and the pressure to produce an amazing meal, it was just the two of us. I still wanted some Thanksgiving tradition, so I made a much tinier version of dinner the night before we left. Although I missed my family and happier days, it was a nice departure from the usual, enjoying a quiet dinner with a loved one set among the redwoods with a crackling campfire.
If you were old enough to get the basics of the game, you were old enough to play. Money was involved, so we learned early to save up small change in our piggy banks throughout the year. There were dishes of olives, gherkins, celery and carrot sticks, chips &dip, nuts and pretzels on trays around the table, and plenty to drink for all. Adults were allowed to smoke cigars —the only time this was allowed in the house.
Dad was always the dealer and he sat at the head of the dining table after the holiday feast was cleared, the tablecloth replaced with the green felt poker tabletop, and the ancient poker chip set made of painted wood pieces in a circular caddy was brought out from its place of honor in Dad's den. With great ceremony, he doled out piles of chips for cash (Mom was always the bank), shuffled the cards, and then paused to look at each player before dealing the first hand. This was serious business. I usually got the giggles right about then.
Once the game started, Dad would start telling stories. We would play long into the wee hours. Dad was a wonderful storyteller, and we laughed and sometimes cried, argued over poker hands, and it was the best time.
My father passed away in 1991, and it occurred to me the next holiday afterwards that he was still up $17 on me from our last game. Well played, Dad. Miss you.
- JTO Real World Design
Tuesday at work I took a call from our largest customer. After our business concluded, we chatted a bit about Thanksgiving plans. The young woman who called is a single parent of two. She said she and her girls would be home alone for Thanksgiving this year. She had promised them they'd put up the Christmas tree early this year and they were very excited. It quickly became obvious to me she was trying to make the best of it for her little people. Still....I could sense the note of sadness in her voice.
I said, 'What fun! Crank up the Christmas music, pop some popcorn and have a wonder-filled party! Cherish these special moments while you have them.' To which she replied, 'But, I don't have a microwave.' After some good-natured ribbing about my young friend being a product of the microwave age, I say, um, ya know ya can make popcorn on the stove, right? . She says, but doesn't that require a special pan? *sigh* THEN she mentions she looked for JiffyPop at the market over the weekend but didn't find any.
(Oh, the memories! Some of y'all remember JiffyPop, right?) Here I'm thinkin....surely JiffyPop is still around but I can't recall seeing it in yearssss. Anyhoo. Fast forward. Stopped for milk on the way home from work. On the way to checkout from the dairy case which is in the back of the store, what before my eyes should appear? Yup. JiffyPop. Funniest thing happened then...half a dozen of 'em may or may not have stuck to me like magnets.
Yesterday, Wednesday morning, I sent one of my employees to a job right next door to this customer. (What are the chances? ) In the process, this lil gift bag, all decked out in silver & purple suddenly appeared on this young mom's desk. Shortly thereafter my phone rings.
Dh was traveling (business) this yr & for the first time in 30+ yrs, we had no set-in-stone plans or I'd have invited my young friend+2 to join us. Yeah, it coulda been a bummer if I had allowed it. But I've learned to ride the waves....I don't always end up where I expected but I always arrive safely. And this time....I found that this silly lil gift WAS my Thanksgiving. It fed my soul. None of my doin's though....I'm believing it was an early Christmas miracle ;)
We were s'posed to head to NC mountains, our little cabin, and potluck dinner with UU friends ... but dear husband has been battling kidney stones and was in no shape to travel. So easy to buy a fresh turkey and cook a few sides. Such a gorgeous day here - mid-60s and not a cloud in the Carolina blue sky. I gardened, set out more bulbs, basted turkey, played with the dogs, enjoyed the quiet neighborhood and the birds flitting about. All the comfort of home and hubby felt a little better. A day off! And thankful for all my friends near and far. :-)
- AB Cornwell
We've been doing the same thing year in and year out (at least 25 years, longer than I've been alive) but our family loves it and it never gets boring. We pack 30 people into my aunt's 200 year old farm house, and our meal is pot-luck style! We have too many people to sit at the table and eat, so we're casual and go back to the couch, or kitchen counter, or game room, or floor, or wherever we find a flat space to park it. It sounds uncivilized, but it's fun, and I get stressed out by stuffy holidays in my Sunday best, so I really love our casual Thanksgiving (in jeans, of course).
My family always does a pretty laid back Thanksgiving. Dad and my uncle fry the turkey, then my Mom and aunt make the sides. We always have more folks than seats so we set up the food in the kitchen and just load up our plates and sit wherever. This year the weather was pretty mild so we spent our afternoon playing cornhole. Now that the sun has gone down we'll play board/card games for the rest of the evening while having dessert set up in the kitchen, with some good drinks thrown in for good measure!
My Mother came up with the idea years ago to use a white table cloth for our dinner table and leave Sharpie markers (all different colors) out for everyone to write what they are thankful for and date it. Each year, we use the same cloth and it is very touching to see where people were in their lives when they wrote stuff, who visited with us that year, what people wrote whom are no longer with us and you are able to watch the young ones grow up on this cloth each year. It's like a timeline for your family.
Being alone on Thanksgiving is the perfect opportunity to pick up strays (people, not animals, though the animals are nice too) — a lot of people get really down around the holidays, especially if they are not with family. You'll be their hero: lock in one or two friends, then just start inviting everyone you know. I was expecting a modest 6 for Thanksgiving one year, and through various changes in other people's plans, ended up with 26 — including a banjo player, a cellist, and a guitarist who entertained us into the night. It was a great party, and everyone was grateful to be included and on excellent guest behavior. They understood we were all in this together — alone on a holiday — and everyone was open and charming to one another.
My favorite Thanksgiving ever my freshman year of college when I was living in the dorm. Everyone went home but my mom came to me. She slept in my roommates bed and the morning of thanksgiving she went to the store and bought all kinds of Thanksgiving foods that could be made in the microwave. It was amazing and delicious, if a little cold. We spent the rest of the day walking around the deserted campus in the cold and watching 80's movies. One of my favorite memories with my mom.
My husband and I use the holiday as an opportunity to make a fabulous, four-course, five-star meal that doesn't include turkey or stuffing or pumpkin pie. Last year's menu was a baby greens salad with panko-crusted broiled chevre, french onion tart, garlic soup, and crab legs with red-pepper and white-wine butter sauce. Crab legs are so awesome that I think that might become it's own tradition. :-)
When I was in my first year if grad. school, my then new husband and I were not able to get back home for thanksgiving. I was complaining about it to one of my professors and he said to me in a very stern tone, "You are with your family here, now—you will celebrate with your family." I have never forgotten that and it changed the way we did thanksgiving. We have developed a set of traditions that are our traditions (including spending thanksgiving with each other, although we tend to have people over for a leftovers party later in the weekend, and often do a dessert ting on thanksgiving night with some good friends). We always do a turkey and our traditional trimmings (including my grandmother's dressing recipe, smashed potatoes, homemade noodles, spinach gratin, and pumpkin cake because neither of us likes pie); a special morning meal to hold us until the big event, and we watch the A&E Pride and Prejudice while things are cooking (added this in the late 1990s) and the George C. Scott Christmas Carol after dinner (added this around 1988). Even 30 years later, we really look forward to our traditions together. We really use that weekend to relax and reconnect and get ready to go into the final push of grading as the academic term comes to an end. It is a peaceful weekend that we are both very thankful for—and I include my thanks to that professor for what he said so many years ago.
We live 6 hours away from home and usually can not make it back for Thanksgiving! So, with the help my Brother and Sister in law (who also live in Chicago) we started Friendsgiving, where we eat early, share laughs and drinks, all while watching Christmas Movies all day! This is year 5, and still going strong!
I'm old fashioned. I love going home and spending the day cooking in the kitchen with my mom and brother while my dad blasts opera and Janice Joplin on the stereo and my husband reads us headlines from the paper. Then our kvetching and plump relatives descend on the house and eat enough food to last most people a month. My brother is a fabulous chef and his crimini stuffing sits side by side with my grandma's sweet potato-orange juice - marshmallow concoction. We never mention gratitude or what we are thankful for. Being with family, even the irritating and crazy ones, is enough to be thankful for without having to say it out loud.
This was my first thanksgiving alone and I had a pretty good time. I had lobster for my meal and a mini drumstick for desert and watched a few shows from my DVR. I moved a month ago and I still have boxes all over the place so I picked up and emptied a few boxes. It was a much needed break from people and I made dent in cleaning so I can enjoy my very hectic weekend.
Even though my siblings and I no longer live at home, we make a point to always come home to mom's and be together. Our family likes to combine both cultures (American and Chinese) by serving the usual turkey, honey baked ham, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce AND a side of sticky rice and egg rolls. =) my mom makes the best sticky rice, so that's the "gotta-have" dish at our Thanksgiving gathering.
I think the thing about Thanksgiving, in particular, is to make it something YOU enjoy — it's not the traditions that are important, it's how you feel. Even if you love traditions and being with family and can't this year, you can find SOMETHING that pleases you as a substitute. You can always get back to the traditions another year.
We've been doing the same thing year in and year out (at least 25 years, longer than I've been alive) but our family loves it and it never gets boring. We pack 30 people into my aunt's 200 year old farm house, and our meal is pot-luck style! We have too many people to sit at the table and eat, so we're casual and go back to the couch, or kitchen counter, or game room, or floor, or wherever we find a flat space to park it.
It sounds uncivilized, but it's fun, and I get stressed out by stuffy holidays in my Sunday best, so I really love our casual Thanksgiving (in jeans, of course).
The last two years I've gone to national parks to camp. They're empty except for international tourists on Thanksgiving! And being in nature makes it easy to celebrate "Buy Nothing Day" on Friday.
I have to say, though, that one of the nicest Thanksgivings I ever had was when I wasn't dating anyone, wasn't invited anywhere, and just spent it alone. I made myself a delicious roast chicken dinner with vegetables, drank a few beers (or some wine?), watched three great movies on dvd, and just relaxed with absolutely no obligations. There's something to be said for giving yourself a day to do absolutely nothing...
We're always somewhere else for the holidays, adjusting and fitting our routines into my husband's or my families... this makes me realize how much I love HOME, and what pleasure comes from enjoying whatever / wherever / whoever makes up or stumbles into your HOME. And how much I want to go home and snuggle into a nice tradition with my husband and daughter! Happy Thanksgiving and happy HOME everyone!
Thanks to everyone for being part of the Apartment Therapy community and have a wonderful day!