A Short Thanksgiving Summary
Thanksgiving is one of America’s biggest holidays. In fact, unless you work in retail or a service industry (e.g., restaurants, hospitals, law enforcement, etc.), it promises the longest chunk of days off (four-day weekend, w00t!) The story behind Thanksgiving that we all grow up learning (and often enacting in kindergarten plays) is that of the Pilgrims who sailed across the Atlantic to seek religious freedom. They were not prepared for the weather or the different land, and about half of them perished during the harsh winter. In the Spring, the Native American Squanto (who has an amazing story) taught the Pilgrims how to harvest corn, catch fish, and survive in their new home. When the corn was harvested in autumn, the Pilgrims organized a feast of Thanksgiving and invited their new Native American allies. Days of Thanksgiving weren’t uncommon among the religious settlers who desired to thank God for their blessings and provision. The early presidents issued Days of Thanksgiving, but it wasn’t until Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday that it was celebrated on an annual basis across America. For more details, see The History Channel’s summary of the history of American Thanksgiving: History Channel’s Thanksgiving History
Thanksgiving Growing Up in the Midwest
There were four main holidays that my family celebrated throughout my childhood: Christmas, Easter, Fourth of July (Independence Day), and Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was probably the least exciting of the four, and varied the most as far as traditions went, but it was still a fun time of getting together with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins over a big meal. I tend to place most of my sentimentality on traditions that were repeated throughout the years…For us that included watching T.V. shows like “Mouse on the Mayflower“, making Thanksgiving-themed crafts with Mom (like hand turkeys or turkeys made out of toilet paper rolls). It was a feel-good holiday that began with church in the morning followed by big meals with family and sharing what we were thankful for. In the 6th grade, our science teacher asked us to try to sit through Thanksgiving dinner without complaining about anything ONCE…instead to sit back and listen to others. We were commissioned to come up with lists of things we were thankful for, a tradition that I think is very healthy for anyone to do (at any time of the year, for that matter).
The Transition to Friendsgiving
Since moving away from home for college, grad school, and now my job, I have only gone home for Thanksgiving twice (both times were paid by others). The unfortunate fact about Thanksgiving travel is that plane ticket prices soar, and it was a trip I could never afford. As a college student living in Florida, the four-day weekend wasn’t long enough to drive (it takes 22 non-stop hours to drive to Wisconsin from my university on the central coast). When I moved out to California for grad school, the distance was even longer. So, instead, I would stay put for Thanksgiving and save up my money to fly home for the longer Christmas break. The $8/hour (or was it $6?) work study I did during the school year gave me the ability to do that, at least. In fact, whenever I made decisions about purchases (such as the rare dinner out to TGIFs with friends), I would compare the price with the cost of a plane ticket and ask myself, “Is this dinner worth an hour of my time? Is it worth taking money away from a future flight home?”
Of course, I missed being with family for Thanksgiving…But economics meant that I had to form new traditions: namely, “Friendsgiving”. In college, I was blessed with amazing friends, including a guy whose family was only a forty minute drive away. His parents opened their doors to us students as well as others in their church who needed a place to celebrate. After church, we would head over to their condo on the beach, stuff ourselves with delicious food, and then go play at the beach on the sunny Atlantic Coast.
After moving to Los Angeles, I was immediately invited by a new friend to celebrate Thanksgiving with her. After integrating into a local church, I started attending the pastor’s family’s Thanksgiving dinner which was put on for anyone who wanted to come. When that dinner was scheduled for the day-after Thanksgiving, I would host a small Friendsgiving gathering for friends. In such cases, I would try to integrate my own family’s traditions, such as making Thanksgiving-themed crafts. I would always find a time that worked with my family back in Wisconsin to do a Skype call, though. This call was always one of the best parts of the day…we would compare how our food turned out, share about our lives, and recount our blessings.
While part of me still wishes I could be visiting family in Wisconsin, there is another part of me that is glad to spend this holiday with my family of friends. People say that “Friends are the family you choose”, and growing up this always rang hollow to me…mostly, because I loved my blood family so much, and because I was such a homebody that I didn’t have much in terms of friendship outside of school activities. Now, though, Junwen and I have found a community of friends that we really can call family…We see each other every Wednesday night, sit together on Sundays at church, and often hang out beyond that. We help each other move, we support each other in sorrow, and we celebrate each other’s joys. We host baby showers, we meet up for dinners or coffees, we hike together, snowboard together, and explore LA together. We serve our city together by reaching out to the homeless and helping charities that serve young mothers. We cheer each other on at sporting events, and we give standing ovations at musical performances. We drive out of our way to attend each other’s gigs and comedy events, we celebrate birthdays, and we answer those phone calls when tears are on the other side. We counsel one another, we pray for each other, we hold one another, and miss each other when separated. I guess for these reasons it is so meaningful to spend Thanksgiving with them…because for them I am so thankful.
What about you?
Do you celebrate Friendsgiving? I know some people who celebrate Friendsgiving in addition to family Thanksgiving. Since Friendsgiving often falls on a date other than Thanksgiving, we have also celebrated in smaller ways on the actual date. For instance, last year we went out to eat at a nice restaurant that served traditional Thanksgiving food with our close friends who were also in town. This year, we drove up to Mammoth (a ski town) on Thanksgiving, but managed to have a small but satisfying meal with our friend who invited us up with her. We also still managed to find cell phone reception in order to make that family phone call as well. 😉 I’d love to hear about some of your traditions!