A new kind of Thanksgiving, far from home
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. What’s not to like? There’s no need to spend weeks in overcrowded malls buying presents for uncles and siblings and kids. Instead of exchanging gifts, we gather around a table piled high with turkey and trimmings. We surround ourselves with loved ones and, after we’ve finished bickering about who forgot to bring the wine last year, after we’ve remembered that it’s never safe to talk politics with relatives, after we’ve told the kids for the thousandth time that no, they may not use the turkey drumsticks as light sabers, we take a moment to give thanks for all that we have.
We’re thankful for our health, of course. We’re thankful for our families. We’re thankful that it’s someone else’s tablecloth about to get covered in gravy.
This Thanksgiving, though, I find myself once again far from home. No relatives to greet. No planes to catch. Aunt Carolyn’s sugar-coated cranberries? Not this year. A turkey, if you can find it, is painfully expensive, and did I mention that half of my immediate family members are vegetarians? Why go to all the bother?
I miss my family, especially at this time of year. There’s a new niece back home whom we’ve never even met. There are cousins with whom our kids won’t fight. Uncles upon whom they won’t be climbing, not this year. It’s a hard season to be away from home, scrambling to re-invent the holidays. Even now, when we’ve been overseas for all but three of the last ten Thanksgiving holidays, we’re still tweaking tradition, trying to find something to suit us.
In the process, we’ve created a new definition of family. Every year, my husband comes home with a list of people who might need an invite. Some years, it’s the Marines, young men and women who are often away from home for the first time. Sometimes it’s someone from his office, traveling without family on this holiday weekend. Or it might be a new arrival, one whose roasting pan has yet to arrive.
One thing is certain: He’ll keep inviting people until the house bursts at the seams, often with people I’ve never seen before and likely won’t see again. But no American should be alone on Thanksgiving, and so we seek out those who need a family and welcome them into ours for the day.
At the end of the night, we’ll wash the dishes and try to scrub the stains off the napkins. That was fun, we’ll say, although we know it can’t compare to stateside Thanksgiving celebrations. It won’t be the same without grandparents and siblings. All the same, it will be a day to give thanks for the fact that they exist, over there on the other side of the globe. It will be a day to enjoy new friendships even as we miss family back home.
For me, Thanksgiving is the saddest day of my overseas life. I miss my parents. I miss the goofy camaraderie that exists between me and my siblings. And yes, I even miss the bickering that inevitably occurs when you squash all of these people under one small roof. My favorite holiday takes on a gloomy tinge if I let it. I spend the day in my kitchen, chopping and roasting and stirring, but a large part of me feels disconnected from my activity, as my mind drifts to thoughts of home. I use my mother-in-law’s table linens and my mom’s stuffing recipe, even if neither of them will sit at our table this year.
But then it’s dinnertime. I sit, and I watch. People all around me are laughing and talking and arguing. There are my kids, another year older, still pulling each other’s hair and fighting over who sits where. There’s my husband, lighting candles and pouring drinks with a baby hanging off his leg. There’s the dog, begging for treats. This family I’m building: This is what the holiday is all about. The sadness leaves me, pushed aside by an overwhelming sense of love and good fortune.
For this, I say again each year: Thank you.