Thanksgiving has always one of my favorite holidays, partly because there were no religious implications and secondly it’s a time when families get together and just eat really good food. For almost a decade, my husband and I hosted our family by default. It was my parent’s holiday. For over 40 years they hosted Thanksgiving. I used to love having everyone come over to our house as a kid. I would watch my mother prepare and enjoy the smells of the day and when the meal was over, I could disappear into my bedroom to sleep off the food coma. I think they hosted for as long as they did to share in the celebration of their wedding anniversary which falls on the same day. When my husband and I moved to Huntington, our house, as small as it was, lent itself a location where a long table could be inserted and stretched to allow almost 25 members of my immediate family to be seated at one long table. Our house became the default house for Thanksgiving. At first, we dipped our toes in as hosts only providing the location and food was still prepared by my parents. As our confidence grew, so did our adventure and courage to host fully, with the Turkey and all the trimmings. We even created new traditions by adding some of our favorite NON-Thanksgiving entrees and as far as I can tell, everyone enjoyed what we offered. However, hosting didn’t come without some real and heated arguments, difference of opinions and creative relocation of furniture, but most importantly some attitude adjustments to really recognize what the holiday was all about.
Although we found the holiday stressful by hosting, we still enjoyed the preparation, the smells of cooking food wafting into the bedrooms, the early arrivals from family driving from far-away places (like New Jersey) and the occasional wandering soul needing a place to celebrate. By the time we hosted our last Thanksgiving in New York, we perfected the timing and skills required of serving the hungry family. Had I known it was my last in New York, I would have taken pictures of food beautifully displayed; my rearranged living and dining rooms with an exceptionally long dining room table fit for a family of 25, but most importantly my wonderful family all together. Over the years, we have had some family additions, from marriages, births and even though my house was maxed out with the sheer number of family members inside, we would have squeezed in a few more because that is what the holiday is all about.
When we moved to Raleigh, my brother and sister-in-law graciously assumed the responsibility of this overwhelming and difficult task. Following in someone else’s footsteps is never easy. Some people make it look effortless and present their creations as a work of art and taste as good as it looks, and I believe my brother has accomplished that and more. For the past two years (and I can’t believe it has been that long since we moved) we have taken the trek up to New York on one of the busiest travel weekends of the year to hold onto that ritual of being with family during this rich-in-tradition holiday. After last year’s trip, of sitting in some of the worst traffic we have ever seen, both on the way up and on the return trip, my husband put his foot down, not to travel to New York during Thanksgiving. My heart sank to new depths and I agonized with multiple layers of anger and frustration. I didn’t want to let go. I love being with family on Thanksgiving but I understood where he was coming from and on some level, didn’t want to go through that nightmare again either.
I knew it wouldn’t be easy letting go and by the time Thanksgiving discussions were underway, I made my peace with not going to New York. And, for some reason, I am OK with not traveling back at this time. Thanksgiving is really a state of mind, and in my case, two states. While my heart still hurts for not being with my family by blood and marriage in New York during this festive time, my new family by choice, here in North Carolina, will help us usher in this holiday season. We are bringing together for the first time some of our friends, displaced by similar situations, to join us in creating some new Thanksgiving traditions and memories. I do believe my husband, on some level, missed the responsibility of cooking on Thanksgiving, and is now pulling out the cookbooks and planning the menu. It could be because he loves the meal after Thanksgiving and enjoys all the leftovers but I think it is because he misses hosting and being around family. Now, he is willing and able to sharpen his carving knives and explore some new ‘southern’ recipes. Barbeque brisket might be the new addition and I am anxious to see what he has in store.
Leaving family is hard and celebrating holidays without them will not be easy. Sometimes, it still feels as if I moved yesterday and those feelings will never fully disappear, but knowing that some of my surrogate family is by my side, celebrating with me and us, makes this season all the more to be thankful.
Happy holidays to you and all of your families.