What Thanksgiving Means To Me

Thanksgiving is upon us. I have to say, fall is one of my most favorite times of the year – first Halloween, then Thanksgiving, and then Christmas, all right in a row. The decorations, the music, the food, the holiday spirit – I love it. Coming from a large family – and having a large extended family – only heightened the holiday cheer growing up, and today I help create that cheer for my own family. So I thought I’d take a moment to talk about Thanksgiving traditions and what Thanksgiving means to me.

There is always the food, of course. But it’s not just the act of eating Thanksgiving dinner. The hours of preparation and the delicious smells that fill the house that entire week are just as important, as are the leftovers that last for days. In my family, the cooking of Christmas cookies has always begun the day after Thanksgiving – if not before. The preparation, eating, and preserving of food becomes both a family tradition and a ritual of community and togetherness.

There is also family. For me, Thanksgiving has almost always involved time spent with extended family, whether they come to me or I go to them. And for me, extended family has always meant time spent playing board games, putting together puzzles, or just sitting around reminiscing. There are also the family projects that we’ll all tackle together, whether it’s simply fixing that drawer that never ran straight or building an entire new porch. Thanksgiving has always meant all of that.

And then there is the history. At Thanksgiving I feel connected to the generations of Americans who came before me, and especially to our nation’s colonial roots. Thanksgiving for me has always involved reading books about the first Thanksgiving, talking about the struggles our ancestors went through to come to this country, and even sewing costumes and dressing as pilgrims. Thanksgiving dinner itself always begins with a remembrance of the first Thanksgiving feast.

In addition to centering around the ritual of food, the embrace of family, and the richness of history, Thanksgiving has always served for me as a time of contemplation and gratitude. It’s good to take stock from time to time, not to ignore problems or challenges but rather to remember and think about the good. Sometimes we get so caught up in the daily grind of life that we focus more on what we don’t have than on what we do have. Thanksgiving helps me slow down and refresh my focus.

What Thanksgiving traditions does your family have? And if you live outside the United States, do you celebrate Thanksgiving (I’m not sure how far American cultural hegemony has taken holidays like this!) or have a similar holiday?

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://noadi.etsy.com Noadi

    Thanksgiving has changed for me over the years, it’s always been about family but in the last few years it’s extended past my biological family to include others close to me. My boyfriend, my best friend and her husband, other friends. This year I’ll be visiting my parents house to see them, my brother and his wife and their two sons (the newest is just two weeks old and I haven’t met him yet) then to a big Thanksgiving dinner with a group of friends. I really like Thanksgiving because it really has little relationship to the event it supposedly celebrates beyond both being a harvest celebration, is pretty much secular, and less overtly patriotic than July 4th, so you can just sit back and enjoy it without as much baggage as other holidays.

  • AnyBeth

    We listen to Alice’s restaurant. Used to live somewhere a radio station played the full thing starting at noon on Thanksgiving. We recorded a copy to keep when we moved away and downloaded one later. It’s definitely a Thanksgiving tradition for us.

  • RMM

    We’re a military couple, too far from home to go home. For us (when he is home), the tradition is to invite the guys/gals who can’t go home and will be alone for the holiday to dinner. Then we do it big: everything you can think of on the table. We don’t want them to be upset that they can’t be at home, or have their families be worried about them being alone on the holiday.

  • Christine

    We celebrate Thanksgiving a month earlier, eh. It’s more of a traditional harvest thanksgiving celebration, so November would be a horrible time for it. When I say it’s a traditional one, it’s to the point that most churches acknowledge the event.

    The last few years, we’ve been celebrating with my parents and my in-laws here in town (my parents come up for the dinner). This year my in-laws hosted a potluck, so there were 11 adults for the dinner, all with very tenuous connections to each other. It was great.

  • Kit

    For the Canadians, we do celebrate Thanksgiving – much earlier. For us. it’s the first weekend in October – to coincide with OUR harvest time! Traditions are almost exactly the same.

    Personally, my family doesn’t really celebrate it. Usually I take the holiday to go home for the weekend, or if I don’t I join thanksgiving celebrations with a friend who can actually cook.

  • Rosie

    My family isn’t very big, and the extended family has historically been a bit scattered, but we always celebrated my birthday at Thanksgiving when I was growing up. Later, when I moved out and started making religious and lifestyle choices that were “wrong” according to them, all the holidays became about the awkwardness of spending a whole day with people who don’t understand or approve of my life, of trying to remember not to cuss or mention this or this or this because it might offend. When I lived on the coast, I liked to have a potluck gathering of friends for Thanksgiving if I could manage it (many were busy with their families, though). When we first moved back to the midwest, the holiday was one long road trip, visiting my family and my in-laws all in a 4-day weekend. Recently I started hosting my family’s gathering, which helps *me* some with the awkwardness (“my house, my rules”), and then hosting a “chosen family” potluck the day after. We eat and drink alcohol and generally decompress from the tension of the day spent with the religious families.

  • Lainey

    Thanksgiving isn’t really a ‘thing’ in the UK, perhaps because its roots are specific to US history as opposed to something like Halloween, where the US customs are starting to be seen here more often. It is a shame as it is one US holiday I really like the idea of – taking time with family or friends just to share food and be thankful without the whole present giving emphasis that can be associated with Christmas (even though I do love giving presents and we do try to focus on thoughtful or handmade gifts over spend, spend, spend!). Also you can never have too many celebrations at this dark time of year. An americanphile (is that the word – what’s the american/US equivalent of an anglophile?) friend is having a combined Thanksgiving/St Andrews day celebration this weekend with peacan pie and haggis which will be nice but doesn’t have quite the same familiar, ritual quality to it as ingrained celebrations.

  • http://mymusingcorner.wordpress.com Lana

    US Thanksgiving is a US holiday. Even the international school with 50% American students where I live in Asia has school tomorrow. One cannot justify letting kids off school for just an American holiday. Oh, no Halloween here either. Christmas is only celebrated on a really, really small scale.

  • http://ripeningreason.com/ Bix

    I think autumn is really the best time for cooking and baking, both because of the seasonal foods and because of the coziness factor, so that’s what I enjoy most. I hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for three years while studying in the UK, and people really enjoyed it. I do appreciate the harvest feast/winter festival atmosphere of the whole season, and unfortunately now I live in LA, where winter just isn’t a distinct season. I prefer snow and evergreens.

  • Karen

    Every year Thanksgiving for me becomes more and more about appreciating the family who won’t be around forever. My parents died in 2003 and 2006 and I have no siblings. I also don’t have any children. My parents-in-law are in their 80s and definitely feeling their years. The nephews and nieces have their own families and are developing their own traditions… so it’s become a bittersweet holiday. But there are so many other things in my life to be thankful for, and I’m glad we have a tradition that insists we focus on appreciation. Because the more you appreciate the things and people you’ve got, the happier you are.

    • Carys Birch

      This has been on my mind a lot this season as well. As might not be a surprise to other ex-fundamentalists, my parents are very young to have a child my age, and their parents are young too (I’m 29, my mother is 49, my grandmother is 69) so I haven’t yet dealt with the loss of many close relatives. But I’ve recently become really close to someone whose family is mostly (and recently) gone, and I’m watching him go through the holiday without the anchor of his family that I have always taken for granted (and he did too, in the past). His loneliness is palpable. Also, my grandmother’s husband passed in September, and it’s brought home the idea that my own family won’t be what it is forever.

      This year I’m extra thankful for family and friends.

  • Kat

    This will be my first thanksgiving alone–I’m getting divorced and my family is 2 thousand miles away (and friends are all traveling to see family) so for me, I’m starting my own tradition: Morning yoga class, vegan sushi, movie, and pedicure :)

    • http://onceuponanartjournal.blogspot.com Tricia

      Good for you, Kat! It’s awesome to make space for celebration whether with others or on your own– hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. :)

  • Katherine

    I’m really troubled by the lack of mention of native people, the whitewashing of Thanksgiving in general, and the racism implicit in the holiday.

    • Rosie

      I’m troubled by that too, Katherine. But since my whole family is of European descent, I’m not at all sure what I can do about it. I fear any protest on my part is likely to be seen as spoiled ungratefulness.

  • http://onceuponanartjournal.blogspot.com Tricia

    As I’ve spent most of the day cooking some of my favorite Thanksgiving dishes in preparation for a small gathering tomorrow– just my immediate family and four friends, I’ve realized Thanksgiving really is, for me, largely about the food. :) I like having people to eat it with as well, but provided they are pleasant and companionable I don’t much care who they are. I’m missing out on my large extended family gathering this year, but am regretting this less than I am anticipating tomorrow’s hopefully yummy turkey which is brining even as I speak. :) Other dishes on the menu include: carrot souffle, baked macarani and cheese, green bean casserole, cornbread dressing, pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie, and cheesecake. I am anticipating there will be lots of leftovers, which is part of the fun. Thanksgiving turns into a three or four day feast.

  • http://rant5k.blogspot.co.uk/ Grikmeer

    UK, Don’t really have anything like it. We had Harvest festivals in Primary School, but I haven’t done anything like that for so long that the otherday I thought I had imagined the whole thing until someone else mentioned doing it…

  • kalimsaki

    “There is no god but God”

    This phrase conveys the following good news to the human spirit, suffering as it does countless needs and the attacks of innumerable enemies. On the one hand the spirit finds a place of recourse, a source of help, through which is opened to it the door of a treasury of mercy that will guarantee all its needs. While on the other it finds a support and source of strength, for the phrase makes known its Creator and True Object of Worship, who possesses the absolute power to secure it from the evil of all its enemies;
    it shows its master, and who it is that owns it. Through pointing this out, the phrase saves the heart from utter desolation and the spirit from aching sorrow; it ensures an eternal joy, a perpetual happiness.

    From Risalei Nur collection by Said Nursi.


    • machintelligence

      There is no god

      You got the first four words right.
      No Gods, no masters.
      A fool says in his heart “there is no God”, a wise man shouts it from the rooftops.

  • Mogg

    Australia doesn’t do Thanksgiving or a harvest festival, and of course it’s late spring and getting hot. Some close friends and I instituted something which my best friend dubbed “Thanksbeing” (on the basis that being thankful is nice but there’s no reason to direct the thanks to anyone in particular) a few years ago when one couple was about to move to the US. We hold it on the closest weekend to Thanksgiving, so tomorrow is the day. However we’ve made it very Australian – the menu tomorrow includes kangaroo, emu, roast wallaby, and barbqued crocodile and camel sausages, along with salad, roasted vegetables, steamed greens and gingerbread dinosaur cookies. All outside in the sunshine this year, although our first one was so cold that we ate in front of an open fire in the lounge.

    • http://dream-wind.livejournal.com/ Christine

      Clearly you ain’t in the Sydney basin then, where we’ve had to get winter clothes out of storage because of the sudden cold snap!

      • Mogg

        Nope, in the Melbourne metro area. It was hot – the first above 30 degree day of the season, as we’ve had a fairly cool spring. I changed the menu and we had a salad selection instead of hot vegetables.
        One thing I forgot to say was that within the original group who started this it was also a sort of celebration of not having to have awkward holiday time with our ultra-religious families. I find Christmas and othe family celebrations a bit awkward at best and on occasion extremely difficult, and my family is far more reasonable than that of my friend who lived with me at the time, who kicked him out of home when he refused to go to church anymore. So having a celebration without that pressure was and remains something special.

  • Noelle

    Thanksgiving’s changed some with time. When I was young, it was long car rides to extended family for dinner and fun with cousins. I don’t remember ever hosting our own, though it’s possible. We had a lot of family, and there were plenty of cousins my age. Good times.

    After mom died when I was 16, my one full brother and I left step-dad and the half-sibs to live with our dad on the other side of the state. After that, mom’s family worked hard to make sure we all got to see each other a few times a year. So those Thanksgivings, through HS and college, were for catching up with my sibs at grandma’s. Still lots of cousins. Bittersweet without mom, but still good times in their own right.

    Since then, we’ve all grown up. The grandparents have died, and the cousins have their own families. So those huge family get-togethers are harder to come by. But my sibs and I still try to meet up, whoever can make it. The last few years have found the gathering at my house. We still have the same basic turkey and sides menu. There is alcohol served at my house, so that’s new. Grandma’s Thanksgiving lacked the beer and wine. There aren’t nearly as many kids. Mine were the only 2 this year. My sibs are mostly childfree, except for the sister who lives too far away to join us. I’m a little sad they won’t get the same experience as I did with the tons of cousins tearing through a house. But I imagine their own memories and traditions will adapt with time like mine have.

    One of my sisters remarked the other day on FB that she wished more people had a childhood like hers, and that the world would be a better place if that were the case. Taking this statement at face value: the poverty, the illness and death of parents too young, the tearing apart of siblings, the living with the grandparent with Alzheimers (they had a different childhood experience than I did after the split), etc, one would think she was being sarcastic or crazy. But she is telling a truth. Throughout all our hard times, we were always well-loved and never abused or neglected by all the adults in our lives. And it made all the difference.