While the idea of a holiday based around gratitude sounds good, Thanksgiving can be overwhelming—filled with full bellies and mixed emotions. When I was a little girl, Thanksgiving was always a delight: family getting together, eating food my mother and grandmother had painstakingly prepared. For me, the best part of Thanksgiving was going to the movies with my beloved grandfather and sister while my mom and grandmother cooked. I grew up during the era when people dressed up, and I remember my grandfather in a suit for the movies and, of course, for Thanksgiving dinner after. There was glamour around our table.
As I got older, the nostalgia of going home for Thanksgiving was sometimes outweighed by the inconvenience of getting home and my selfish desire as a college student was to have fun with friends more than to spend time with family. After college is when Thanksgiving became a little more complicated. I moved to Detroit, Michigan, and would spend Thanksgiving with my family there simply because I didn’t want to deal with holiday traffic and making the drive home. Once serious dating was in the mix, wondering if the guy and I were serious enough to spend Thanksgiving with each other’s families became another complication to consider. And, of course, if we didn’t spend the holiday together, hurt feelings and disappointment about the guy took my mind off what it should be on: a holiday about family and gratitude.
Once I was married, I knew I had a Thanksgiving companion. When our daughter came along, my husband and I tended to go to my grandmother’s house in Cleveland, Ohio. Thanksgiving as a grown up no longer meant a day of leisure at the movies while my grandmother and mother did the work. I became the one with the pans and ingredients and rolled-up sleeves. Years passed and Thanksgiving became—I hate to say—a bit of a chore.
After my grandmother and mother passed, my husband, daughter and I had to find new traditions. My husband’s extended family is very large (he was one of 13 kids), but most of them lived beyond driving distance away. So, our Thanksgiving became a tiny Thanksgiving, just the three of us around the dining table. One year, one of our nieces invited us to Thanksgiving with her husband, children, and in-laws in Chicago. Then that became our new tradition, and I was back on leisure duty as she did all the work and refused help.
When we lost my husband, Thanksgiving became a holiday of dread. My daughter describes us as “adrift at sea” as we tried to decide what to do for the holiday. And as I think about her and I trying to choose between just the two of us going out to dinner at a restaurant (that’s having Thanksgiving dinner), preparing a scaled-down version of Thanksgiving for ourselves, hoping to be invited by extended family, or ignoring the holiday altogether, I have realized something: Thanksgiving, even with all its good intentions, is a hard holiday for so many people.
If you’ve lost a loved one who was an integral part of the holiday, those feelings of grief are brought to the surface. If you’re married, do you go to your family’s or your spouse’s? If you host, do you even like to cook? Also, if you do host, you have to make sure your house is ready for guests and your food preparation is up to everyone’s standards and expectations. Maybe you’re trying to have kids, and you are dealing with infertility and dreading the questions that people will ask. Maybe you’re single and dreading the questions that will come with that. Maybe you have a dietary restriction that makes trying to figure out what you will be able to eat a challenge. Maybe you’ve moved to a new city and aren’t close enough with anyone to spend the holiday with them. Maybe you just don’t get along with your family.
Thanksgiving can be very difficult. I’m here to tell you, it’s been hard for me, and if I’m being honest, it’s still difficult even though my husband passed years ago. As the leaves start to turn signaling fall, there’s still a little bit of apprehension when I know Thanksgiving is coming. If you are struggling to be more excited about what to be grateful for and focusing more on what Thanksgiving 2022 will be like for you, consider this: be grateful that while you may be alone in your circle, you are not alone in the community of people throughout the Thanksgiving-celebrating world who aren’t as excited about it as it seems like they should be. You can be grateful for them, for a whole community of people you don’t know who feel the same as you do.
What are you grateful for as we approach Thanksgiving?