My parents divorced when I was 12. After that, my older sister and I alternated celebrating Thanksgiving with each parent. For a couple of years, we celebrated Thanksgiving by going to the movie theater with my mom. Some years, she made a small, ordinary meal and we ate it at her silent house with the thermostat set to 65 degrees so the propane bill wouldn’t be too high.
On the years I spent Thanksgiving with my dad, we always went to a family friend’s house. There was turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, Christmas music in the background, a seasonal tablecloth, and maybe a card game. We made the rounds to different houses each year, but one common thread remained: The day was a festive celebration.
I so wanted to be a kid in one of those families. I wanted a mom and a dad who lived together. I wanted a warm kitchen filled with the slowly intensifying aroma of roast turkey. I wanted laughter in the living room and siblings running through the hall. I loved the idea of listening to Jingle Bells and Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree before the Christmas tree was even up.
One of my favorite aspects of being a parent is the ability to give my kids the childhood memories I didn’t get to make. The food isn’t the most important part of Thanksgiving. We’ve eaten turkey, ham, steak, and shrimp over the years. I’ve made pumpkin pie, apple-cranberry pie, and cheesecake. The menu varies, but one thread remains constant: I make sure to put on holiday music, use my best serving platter, and snuggle on the couch with all three kids at once.
Because Thanksgiving is a rare opportunity to show our kids the importance of building strong familial bonds. It’s a national holiday, so schools and businesses are closed. That shows our kids that spending time with family is more important than learning a few math facts or making a few bucks. No job (or any other pursuit) is more important than family. For one day a year that stretches into a long weekend, the entire United States stops what it is doing and collectively says “Family is important.”
My family has lived in three different states during its seven years’ existence. No matter where we live, we spend time together on Thanksgiving Day. One year we shot .22 rifles at a target out behind the house. Another year, we visited friends who are like family and ate a meal so delicious I am sad to report we will likely never top it this side of heaven. This year, the kids painted Christmas tree ornaments and made candy while Santa Claus is Coming to Town blared on Pandora and I roasted my juiciest, tastiest turkey to date.
Because it’s totally okay to blend the holidays together. The whole season is about celebrating family and friends. Family is the bedrock of our society – of ourselves. The way we celebrate family as kids will shape our views and decisions for the rest of our lives.
I’m so glad I can give my kids the holidays of my childhood dreams. I only hope I can show them that the celebration is worth passing onto their kids.