Memories of Thanksgiving Holidays, Past and Pandemic

Taking a respite from work, sitting at my home office desk with my eyes closed, memories of Thanksgiving flood me. Deep breath, meditation style – air in slowly, air out audibly – shoulders back, chest open, accepting the energy. A mélange of aromas – cranberry, allspice, pumpkin, Balsam fir – envelop my nose. Just as if I am waking in the cozy, one-level ranch house in rural Delaware in which I grew up. 

My face muscles relax, lips slightly separating. I feel it – a smile ensuing. I breathe in bigger, deeper; my shoulders expand more, like trying to maintain the “perfect” posture. My childhood memories of this giving holiday slowly drain my stress. I allow the memories to take over me, and realize, “Wow I am meditating!” Admittedly, this form of relaxation has not been my forte, due to the gift of energy that has been bestowed upon me. Though I continue to persevere. (See my recent article on Silence is Everything.)

Thanksgiving holiday meanings

Growing up, Thanksgiving (in fact all holidays) was a special time in my family – a big “tado” even if we were just a quartet – mom, dad, brother and me. Five of us if I count our cat Buffy who shared every Thanksgiving with us for 18+ years. 

Thanksgiving represented relaxation, laughter, togetherness and attachment to my parents, brother and Buffy, like the Olympic logo of interlocking rings. Holidays meant my parents were not working, and for one day we had them all to ourselves. No darting out to work or rushing us out the door to school. (You know that scenario right?) Now, my 13+-year-old daughter enjoys this same undivided holiday attention.

For my brother and me, Thanksgiving was elbowing for space on the couch next to my father and peering straight ahead at the Zenith TV. This was a mammoth-like, treasured monument in many U.S. homes in the ’70s and ’80s. Buffy too inched her way in. We were giddy to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, with her billowing floats and dancers, clad in vibrant-colored ensembles. This ritual was never missed in our home on Thanksgiving. 

As a child, I longed for a big family, especially during holidays, wanting many boisterous siblings circling the house. Yet, I was blessed with our foursome. My brother, 18 months older, and I created enough raucous together that we did not need a bigger family.  Actually, for my mother, two children were plenty.

With excitement, I awaited this holiday and its accompanying butterfly fluttering in the stomach that ensued the week leading up to Thanksgiving, just like anticipating a first date. I still feel this giddiness today. Mom’s early morning preparation always began with a pastry baking in the oven, to get our juices flowing – “whet our whistles” as she used to say – until the real celebratory meal came later. 

My holiday role was setting the table of four with Mom’s china and flatware, a combination of items that were passed down and her wedding gifts. They only presented themselves on holidays. Then, I did not understand why certain dishes were locked away like a sad caged bird, only to reveal themselves a few times a year. Free them I would say to her!

With a scowl on my face, a usual look for any teenager, I would accost her about the china, asking why it could only come out during the holidays. Just one of the many things about which I would badger her.

In her docile way, completely overlooking my sassiness, my mother gifted me her words that explained the importance of our beautifully-set table. Using the “good dishes” daily also posed a higher risk of my brother or me breaking them. And I knew that replacing them would not have been an easy task, although she never said this. As a mother, I now empathize with her and relate to why this was special to her. She was able to feel regal for one day.

Then, I did not understand why certain dishes would stay in a cabinet, locked away like a caged bird, collecting dust, only to reveal themselves a few times a year. Free them!

Thanksgiving holiday traditions carried forward

“Dressing to the nines,” as if awaiting dignitaries, was another box to check off on our holiday ritual list. While I derogatorily questioned the use of the good dishes, I reveled in our shopping trip for the best outfit. I loved feeling like I was in the most expensive Chanel-esque garb that was not Chanel. This was as epic as the holiday itself, a tradition I happily carry forward today. (Really, who does not want a new outfit?)

Today, I and my father are the duet in this dressing activity. Simultaneously my 13+-year-old bellows, “Why do we have to look fancy in our own home.” Her accompanying eyeroll and raised voice with these statements is right on point. And the Oscar goes to!  I present her with this award and then direcet her, again, to change out of the multi-day worn sweatpants. With clenched teeth, a stare to kill and huff, she turns away and stomps up the stairs to transform herself. I trust her. She will reappear with her upgraded attire – ripped jeans, nondescript top and sparkling personality, the best part of outfit. I pick my battles!

Having my own family, blended and bigger, I have carried on these happy traditions that my parents bestowed upon me. I know that my teen daughter, and older children in their 20s love them too, something my youngest will not openly admit because she is in the “Mom does everything wrong stage.” Her older siblings will. 

I typically have invited neighbors whose families are not near to join in the warmth of our rituals and meal. To me, “more is merrier” with celebrations, bringing people together with food and wine. I think it is also a subconscious act to give me that bigger family that I always had wanted Well, except when it is time to clean.

The same, yet different Thanksgiving holiday

Because of the pandemic, Thanksgiving has been different the past two years. The number of guests are less. Bringing others to our table and later for dessert, pleasures that I had embraced, have been put on hold. With sarcasm, “Thank you pandemic for this interruption.”

Yet, I did not let this non-discriminatory virus ruin our last two holidays. Some things did not change. The week leading up to Thanksgiving still produced giddiness inside of me. l still dressed in my special attire that I pulled from the closet; put out the china that I use often, unlike mom; chose a special wine and watched the Macy’s Day parade.  I did not allow the good familial traditions burn out.

I woke early, like mom, to initiate the baked scents, enveloping the house and serving as an alarm clock for all. With joy, I anticipated the arrival of my older children, parents and mother-in-law – the latter two,  just shy of the 80-year mark, yet as vibrant as ever. We talked boisterously with much laughter. My Italian mother-in-law and I together created enough decibels for everyone, even before the wine began!

However, the pandemic has changed me in a way that I cannot verbalize fully; it has slowed me down. It has forced me, and I know others, to adjust, and live a new way of thinking. I cherish our Thanksgiving, differently. Positives always reveal themselves as a result of something life-altering. While sometimes difficult, I remained open to and embraced them. Heck, my meditation finally inched up toward a B grade. Maybe I can achieve an A grade soon.

Instead of calling my older brother on the West Coast, we toasted via Facetime, recalling our funny childhood holiday shenanigans. Without the pandemic, we would have opted for the usual hurried phone call to him in order to return to our tasks at hand. Now we do not hurry, and instead we “see” him.

As I ponder this, maybe my brother actually did not embrace this changed way of calling, because mom was able to see if he was in his best attire, something he always detested, like my daughter does today. A smile broadens on my face and an outburst of laughter ensues.  Some things have changed during the pandemic and others we happily carry forward forever! 

Happy Holidays! 

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