Two years ago, we proclaimed independence from the man (read: decided to stay home for Thanksgiving instead of traveling to see family), and I did the only thing I could think of to do at the time. I embarked on a solo mission. The mission was to cook each and every aspect of a Thanksgiving meal from scratch for my little family of five. We were going back to the time of the pilgrims to see how people lived in the old days. I had the script written perfectly in my head.
Let’s just all stop right now and have a moment of silence for just how bad of an idea that was. It was a snowball of epic proportions and I found myself on Thanksgiving morning completely and utterly exhausted from days and days and days of making bread to dry for breadcrumbs and turkey stock and roasting pumpkins for the ever-loving pie. I could barely keep my eyes open when we were sitting down to eat, the littlest one screaming his bloody head off because he hates turkey and don’t you dare put that stuffing on my plate. I will revolt. The middle one ate 15 pieces of bread and called it good, and the oldest had a look of disgust on her face that was the equivalent of me forcing her to eat raw sewage. My husband enjoyed it, or at least he was smart enough to shut his mouth, and by the time we finally sat down at the table, I was completely over the thought of anything even resembling Thanksgiving food. I’ll take an extra-large glass of wine and call it good, thank-you-very-much.
The highlight of that meal turned out being the kids drinking ice water out of wine glasses and I vowed when I turned in for bed that night to go back to traveling for the holidays. At least when we travel there are other people around to help me dice up those sweet potatoes that no one is going to eat. The bickering and the hard stuff that goes along with being a member of a big family was surely better than cooking it all myself and that’s not even touching the loneliness and sadness that came along with it.
We found ourselves in a precarious position this year, though. My dad is spending his first Thanksgiving in a memory care facility and my mom had a hip replacement last month. There have been divorces and shared custody and some strained relationships with some members of our families, and us showing up for the holiday seemed like a recipe for family disaster. I cried for a few days wondering what to even do and how we ended up in this position. I felt alone. I wondered if I should bother to cook and googled brunches in the area. I told them I was going to make them volunteer at the free Thanksgiving Buffet at the DECC. I had a very long and very winded pity party with myself.
Once I got myself together, I sat down and thought long and hard about what I wanted to teach my kids about Thanksgiving and the meaning behind it. Once you pull out the family drama and the unrealistic expectation of trying to please 30 different people at the same time, what does Thanksgiving even mean? I decided I wanted to teach them about how lucky we are, even in the midst of the bad stuff, and I wanted to show them how important it is to have a tribe.
I decided that day that I was going to start our own tradition. I was going to invite friends over for Thanksgiving, and I was going to tell them thanks for the role they played in our lives this year. My only requirement was that everyone had to bring a dish (or two) and that everyone that wanted to be here was welcome. No obligations, no cooking the entire dinner myself, just some friends and some wine and some thankfulness.
I had a blast decorating the table and searching Pinterest for place setting ideas. My daughter wrote the name of each of our guests on their place setting. My mom came and she showed one of my friends that she’s never even met how to make the family gravy. One of our friends brought her mom along with her. There were old friends and inside jokes and laughter and kids toasting cranberry juice to friendships. I bought a new set of white napkins and had each guest write what there are thankful for on theirs with black fabric marker. Next year, we’ll use those same napkins and some day, when my kids are old, I’ll pull them out and show them the history of everyone they’ve ever shared a Friendsgiving with. I’ll tell them how important it is to invest in friends.
People come into and out of our lives as we grow, friends change and evolve, and on Friendsgiving, we get to choose the people that we want to sit down around the table with. I’m really hoping that next year we find ourselves in the presence of our family, the ones with the history, the relationships that stand the test of time, the cousins and the aunts and the uncles and the grandparents, I really do. Even if that happens, I’ll still choose to celebrate Friendsgiving again next year. We’ll again each bring our favorite Thanksgiving dish and sit around the table and be thankful for friendship.