I’ve come to terms with Thanksgiving. It’s still not my favorite holiday (not by a longshot), but I’m learning to appreciate it.

I spent a lot of years not liking it on principle, because that was just the sort of teenager I was (and the type of person I can still be, unfortunately). I still believe it’s a ridiculous time of year to celebrate bountiful harvests; if it were up to me, I’d celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving, in October, which seems a more logical choice for a harvest festival. But, clearly, I have no say in the matter. I also don’t go in much for the “pilgrims & Indians” part of it, because . . . actually, you know what, I’m not going to get into that here. I’m trying to keep this one positive.

Suffice to say that when I celebrate Thanksgiving, it’s as a harvest festival, as a symbolic beginning to the coming cold season, the closing of the year. It is a time to reflect on the year that has passed, but that’s generally how I feel about the entire autumn season anyway. Thanksgiving just puts a nice cap on it.

While Geordie and I are doing a fairly mundane and “typical” Thanksgiving this year, I have a number of unorthodox celebrations in my history. I have always held Christmas memories and traditions higher than Thanksgiving ones. I doubt that will change very much in the coming years. But I wanted to take this day to remember a few special Thanksgivings and the traditions that have come and gone (and sometimes stayed) overthe years. I’m sure there are some treasured Thanksgiving memories; I just have to do a little exploration in this crowded head of mine.

When I was growing up, we had traditional Thanksgiving dinners. I’m pretty sure of it, even though I don’t actually have many memories of them. The last one I really remember well was in 1992, when some of my mother’s family came to our place. In my youth, I didn’t like Thanksgiving so much because I was a terribly picky eater and the food just wasn’t overly appealing to me. I would only eat the dark meat of the turkey (which I still prefer, no matter what the bird is), I refused to eat the stuffing if there were onions and celery in it (also still true), and anything that couldn’t be smothered in butter was suspect. I ate a lot of carbs for Thanksgiving meals in those days: mashed potatoes (not always with gravy), sweet potatoes, and rolls with butter. Quite the unsophisticated palate. I’m sure I ate pumpkin pie too, but probably only with a generous helping of whipped cream.

By the time I was in college, we no longer had a “traditional” Thanksgiving, by national standards. But it did involve football. My father’s parents ran a concession stand for the Pop Warner youth football league during playoffs, which happened Thanksgiving week. Teams from all over the south took part, and it eventually became our tradition to visit my grandparents and help out at the concession stand. From Wednesday to Saturday, we worked concession and usually ate hamburgers and hotdogs for our Thanksgiving meal. I skipped most of these events as a teenager, but as a young adult, it became a pretty enjoyable way to spend the holiday (as long as I was working with the food and not with taking orders – it could get pretty crazy sometimes). Between Dad’s hamburgers and Granny’s chili-cheese dogs, that was all I really wanted for Thanksgiving.

Sometime between college and my life abroad, I spent Thanksgiving with Heather and her family. The turkey was all Heather. I would have had no idea what to do with a whole bird. I probably did desserts, as that’s always been my area of expertise. I remember having a fairly early dinner then getting into my pre-packed car and driving south to my grandparents’s place and meeting up with the family there. I remember that was the first year I won Nanowrimo. Not a bad year.

Then I went to Japan. While harvest festivals are popular – especially in the countryside – most of them take place in October and are celebrated locally and uniquely. They’re often celebrated as a community event, either in the center of town or at the local shrine. They’re by no means the biggest festivals of the year, but they are a nice expression of thankfulness for the harvest and the unity of the local people. Most of my students knew what Thanksgiving was – and those who had lived abroad sometimes had had personal experiences with it – but it was a very foreign, American concept to them. Completely understandable. Of the three Thanksgivings I spent in Japan, I worked two of them. It didn’t bother me much.

The third Thanksgiving, in 2010, my regular days off were Wednesday and Thursday, and I was in the habit of visiting Geordie on those days. At the time, we lived in separate prefectures – there was a good two-hour train ride between us. Geordie lived in a tiny apartment; his furniture was limited to a low table and a short, skinny bed (also very low to the ground). Turkey was impossible to come by unless you lived in a big city (he didn’t), and even then, it was expensive. Also, he had no oven, only two elements on the range. So, I went with my family’s tradition and made my grandmother’s chili! And cornbread. And something for dessert, but I can’t remember at all what it was.

Hey, I found a pic!

I’m pretty sure the skillet and the nabe were the only cookware items that Geordie had at his apartment. And maybe a saucepot. He was very much a bachelor! Good thing I came along when I did.

I am now seriously considering doing a chili Thanksgiving next year. Turkey has long been a Christmas tradition in our family; I’m happy to keep it that way.

I do wonder what Thanksgiving traditions we’ll be cherishing in the future. I’d like to think of it as a quieter, more introspective holiday. I’d rather travel and get together with family for Christmas. Thanksgiving is more for reflection, a winding down of the year and a preparation for the coming season. A happy holiday, but a sober, simple one. I can already tell that this will be a holiday where the loss of Lauren lays heavily upon me, no matter how many years pass by. I wish she were still here with us but I’m grateful for having her in our lives, even for such a short time.

If you’re traveling this year, take care. If you’re staying home this year, enjoy and be safe. If it’s just another Thursday for you, have a good one. I’m grateful to you all who stop by and read my random musings and cooking adventures. When I count my blessings, you’re all among them. Thank you.

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