Thanksgiving is Always a WIP
Thanksgiving and I have a turbulent history together. I loved it, and then I ignored it, and I even grew to resent it. But two years ago my outlook changed—I realized Thanksgiving is what you make it (similar to how one might approach knitting). We can change traditions and even introduce new ones! This revelation inspired another—holidays are by no means finalized and I decide how I celebrate.
The Thanksgivings of my childhood were easy—always in same place, with the same people, and the same menu. In the morning I would set the tables, arranging handmade place cards crafted by multiple generations, filling tiny paper ketchup cups with M&Ms, and (of course) acting as poison/quality control for each bag.
But my favorite prep-activity was listening to the men talk while they prepared the turkeys—and deciding who got to take the bones home to make Matzo Ball Soup. It was a huge crowd, lots of food, and games for us to play while the adults talked late into the night—fueled by coffee and pie.
Growing up changed things, I stopped going in favor of “cooler” high school-aged events, and later, in college, my busy schedule meant avoiding Thanksgiving entirely. I skipped the holiday for years, bouncing from city to city, grabbing a slice of pie from work or the grocery store.
My mixed feelings on Thanksgiving are to blame; I was all too willing to avoid it. As a kid, I listened to the story and focused on M&Ms, cranberry sauce, and apple pie. But with age came wisdom, the story from elementary school about Pilgrims and Native Americans sharing a meal replaced with the real-life horrors of forced migration, internment, and genocide. Thanksgiving felt dirty, shameful, and (with my Jewish heritage as context) wrong. It felt like I was participating in the re-writing of history, working to forget a great injustice—so I hated the holiday.
But in 2016 I moved to Colorado and, with deep reservations, attended my first Friends-giving. We ate, drank wine, and most importantly, talked about the holiday—from the history to the current ramification of those actions. And at 23, I found the way I want to “do” Thanksgiving. It didn’t have to be a dinner where we forgot the past. Now it’s an opportunity to reflect, learn, and engage.
This year I am adding another element, vocalizing contributions from Native Americans to this country and using some free time in November to participate in Native American Heritage Month—listening, reading, and learning.
Holidays can and should evolve. You can start a new tradition and feel free to examine and change established ones if they don’t work anymore. The holidays are what you make them. The constant theme will always be the opportunity to bring people closer and bring some joy into the world.
What’s your favorite Thanksgiving tradition? Leave a comment and inspire new traditions for other people!
(Featured Image | Photo Credit: skynesher/Getty Images)