Thanksgiving for everyone

This time of year, as I say goodbye, I add, “Happy Thanksgiving!”

“Happy Thanksgiving!” becomes my closing on emails.

Before I hang up the phone, “Happy Thanksgiving!”

The words are the same each time. Even the tone seems the same with that added lilt.

But it means something different to everyone.

When I was growing up, Thanksgiving meant driving down to Florida for a traditional feast with my grandparents – turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, cranberry sauce, rolls and pumpkin pie. (I’m hungry.) My grandfather said grace, and we all declared what we were thankful for that year. We were a small crowd – parents, grandparents, my sister and me, plus 1 or 2 dogs in the mix. It was calm, quiet and had a comfortable predictability about it. That was my Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving traditions have undergone a lot of change over the years for many of us. A cousin of mine from Guatemala, who is studying at Georgetown now, is excited to experience her first Thanksgiving this year while in the United States. There are just so many different versions of Thanksgiving now. I am not sure that it will live up to her vision, which probably looks a lot like my Florida memory.

Here’s what’s on the list these days:

All good. Just different.

My most “different” Thanksgivings were in my early 20s when I worked at a residential treatment center for adolescent girls in Baltimore, where I began my career in the mental health field. Each of the staff there worked either Thanksgiving or Christmas (maybe both), and I worked Thanksgiving. We arranged family visits home for the girls as much as possible for holidays, but for some, there was no family to visit or no safe way to make that happen. 

The culinary staff prepared a special meal, and I helped plan activities, including pie-baking for the dinner that we would share together that evening. We made the most of it, but the fact that our Thanksgiving table was not a traditional one, like that one in Florida, hung in the air around us. And for many of the girls, that sadness or anger was too much to bear.

During those years, though, after a day of working among all that emotion, a friend of mine from college, Jen, invited me over to her house where her family gathered and celebrated late into the evening. They welcomed me into their own Hill Family traditions, including oyster casserole and piles of lump crab meat, which had not been a part of my Thanksgiving feasts before. I was tired. I missed my family. But I was grateful for their kindness and have not forgotten it.

Maybe you can make Thanksgiving unforgettable for someone else, too. While there may be a whole host of ways that people spend Thanksgiving, some of those are driven by circumstances far from happy.

That means opportunity is all around us. There are people who, for any number of reasons, are feeling lonely, hungry, tired, or sad – like Thanksgiving has forgotten them. Let’s show them otherwise. 

No matter how you are spending the holiday, find a way to be a little like the Hill Family. Someone will be grateful for you and will never forget it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

For everyone.