Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and my oven is broken. And so is my stove. So I am not cooking… anything. The large kitchen appliances going on strike occurred quite suddenly, and so my husband and I scrambled to make alternative plans. Instead of having a Thanksgiving dinner at home, then piling in the car to visit relatives, we are going to pile in the car and visit relatives, eat with them, and then go home. Not a huge difference, except I won’t have to do dishes.
Something else is different about this Thanksgiving. Two of my children are not going to be with us. One of my offspring, a mid-twenties single man, is adventuring with friends on an international trip. And the other, across the country, is saving up to come home another time. This could have broken my spirit in my younger self, but it doesn’t now. They are, after all, alive and well. I’m grateful for this. They are with me in spirit, and hopefully, at least for a few minutes, on the phone. God willing, there will be other Thanksgivings with them. I will focus on what I have, on those things that bless me.
This year, happily I did not do a single craft with the younger children. Don’t get me wrong- I am not against crafts. In fact, I love doing crafts. I have done my fair share of coloring and cutting paper plate turkeys and making elegant place settings. I have created artwork and pop-ups with the children in Thanksgivings past. But life got in the way this year. And, as luck would have it (see paragraph one), it turns out we won’t be needing table decorations anyway this year.
In lieu of making a Thanksgiving dinner, I’ve gathered some thoughts on how to make the best Thanksgiving ever. See? Another good thing comes from broken appliances. I might be whipping up a sweet potato casserole or baking a pecan pie right now. Instead, I’m sitting at the computer with a cup of steaming coffee, ruminating with you. It’s all good. ☺
To have a great Thanksgiving, do the following:
Simplify your Thanksgiving in your expectations and execution. A good goal if you’re cooking at home is to get dinner on the table within a reasonable time frame and with a peaceful demeanor. Thanksgiving is not about the accouterments or out-baking your sister in law. It’s about gratitude and gift of self. It’s about sharing that gratitude and self with family and friends. Remember that.
Simplifying means not trying to squeeze in those two, amazing, Thanksgiving home decorating crafts you saw on Pinterest, but forgot to do earlier in the week. It is being okay with not being a super artsy mom today, using all sorts of glue and construction paper and googly eyes and glitter the day before the biggest cooking day of the year, but focusing instead at the little one tugging at you, asking “Book please?”
Instead of thinking “and”, “and”, “and” this Thanksgiving, try paring down. Take ten minutes to snuggle up with your child and read a story about the pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving. Share with your child what you are most thankful for. Help him make a list of what he is appreciates most. If you can sneak out for a visit to church for Mass, go for it. But keep things simple.
And here’s a thought: instead of fretting over centerpieces and tablecloths and entryways, go find your Advent calendar, wreath and those four ever-elusive candles. Advent starts Sunday. You’ll need the calendar and wreath for four weeks, not just one day.
To have a great Thanksgiving, focus simply on loving your family and friends. In order to do this, slow down, act and react. Pay attention to the people around you. Focus.
Hug your mother, if you are blessed to be with her this day. Do you not really get along? Hug her anyway. Kiss your kids. Muss up their hair. Straighten your son’s shirt collar. Tell him he looks handsome. When he brings in extra chairs into the dining room for Grandma, smile and mouth thank you! Let him know you admire his helpfulness. Compliment your daughter as she sets the table or prepares potatoes in the kitchen. “You will be a fine hostess some day,” you can say. She will beam and try even harder to please. If you are spending time in another’s home this Thanksgiving holiday, really notice what needs to be done and help out. Ask your niece how her studies are going and then look into her eyes and really listen. Ask questions. Be attentive.
Decide you will go out of your way to make your husband’s Thanksgiving Day extra special and a relaxed break from his hard work. Bring him a beverage. Give him a love pat. Encourage him to relax and watch the game after dinner. Yes, you work hard too but focus on him today. Remember why you fell in love with him. Reward him for forsaking all others and choosing you. In the spirit of thankfulness, spoil him. He’ll love it but here’s another secret: you’ll also enjoy the day more.
Actions often precede emotions. Choosing loving actions helps us actually feel more love toward family and friends. We love those whom we serve. Serving is a way to love. Serve well. Love well. Be loved.
Express Your Gratitude and Remember
To have a great Thanksgiving, express gratitude! Start your day with prayer. God listens to requests all year long. Tell him ‘thanks’, unfettered, today. Tell others what they mean to you. Be specific. Share an uplifting story about the past. Recall your first Thanksgiving as a married couple and relate that to your children. Did you burn the turkey? Did you travel to four homes trying to accommodate the wishes of all the relatives? Did anything funny happen? Did plans go awry? What do you remember most fondly about those times? What are you really grateful for?
Let it Go
Last, to have a great Thanksgiving, let go. If you are on the receiving end of a snarky comment, or are left out of a conversation, reply with sweetness or leave the room and release the tension, like a balloon rising up. If a relative or friend is saying or doing something destructive or immoral in front of the children, of course, this is not the time to let go, but to address things upfront or remove your family from the situation. Most unpleasant conversations or uncomfortable situations, however, can and should just be ignored. Be sweet and polite and focus on being a channel of joy. If it gets hard, go to the bathroom. If you have to stay there longer than 20 minutes to regain composure, you might want to go home, and finish Thanksgiving there, in peace.
Not to be morbid, but sometimes on holidays like Thanksgiving, I think about death. And it helps me learn about life and how to live it best. I think about a cold gravestone and chances to choose and act no more. I think about how then it will not matter if my Thanksgiving pie was the best or my table setting was perfect or if we ate on time or if I wore the right outfit. It won’t even matter if I celebrated a particular holiday at the home of this relative or that. Elaborate food won’t matter; the surroundings will mean nothing. I will be remembered for none of that.
In the end what counts is what I offered the world. Did I offer frenzied anxiousness to those around me? A barking demeanor? Stress? Busyness? Did I offer complication? Or, did I bring joy and offer light and softness, gentleness and peace? If I am lucky someone who cares will stand at my gravestone and ponder that even with all my weaknesses, faults and shortcomings, I gave. I gave sincerely, simply, generously and with faith.
The important question will be:
Did I love?
This Thanksgiving, I will focus on that.