Why Thanksgiving is a Non-Negotiable Holiday to Me

Anyone who knows me well understands how much I love Thanksgiving. It’s pretty much the perfect holiday. There are no presents to buy. You don’t have to get dressed up. The focus is just being with the people you love the most.

After my first divorce, I felt like I was losing track of what the holiday was all about. It’s all about spending time with family, right? What did it mean if the family I had created had broken apart? I knew that I needed to figure things out.

Cardiologist Sadeep Jahuar once said that “a record of our emotional life is written on our hearts.” Being a physician, he had seen firsthand that emotions can have a measurable effect on a person’s cardiac health. People dealing with grief or pain often experience chest pain, shortness of breath, or elevated blood pressure. Those are all signs of potentially serious health problems. “The heart may not originate our feelings,” he said, “but it is highly responsive to them.”

What he’s describing here is what most of us call a broken heart and that’s exactly how I felt about possibly losing my favorite holiday.

I realized that I had to fight to get past the feelings of pain and suffering. My relationship may be ending, but the rest of my family was still there for me. Which is when I realized I wasn’t going to give up Thanksgiving. 

Some things in life should be non-negotiable. Some things we can’t give up on or let fall through the cracks because to us, they’re sacred. For me, that’s Thanksgiving.

Let me share a little about what makes the day so special to me. First of all, it’s the one day of the year when the extended family gathers at my home. I love seeing several generations sitting together at my table. Over here is my 85-year-old mother, over there my amazing kids, across the table my nephews and of course their partners. Throughout the year so many friends have joined us or swung by. At my home everyone is welcome.

Playing the host means most of the work falls on my shoulders (which by the way, I love). I make sure we have enough tables and chairs for everyone. I organize the meal so that there’s plenty even if a couple of people drop by unexpectedly. But being able to plan, prepare, and pull off an event that makes so many people happy brings me true joy.

The family knows not to expect it to be a restful, relaxing time. Everyone brings their dogs, so there's always a little chaos. People are constantly running in and out. Norman Rockwell it isn’t. But it’s something that’s important to all of us.

We’re always trying new recipes, cooking together, talking about our favorite dishes from past years. Everyone has something that we associate with them. One of my kids is known for insisting on trying the most complicated recipes. The other absolutely has to have pumpkin pie, no matter how many other desserts we might make. (I guess they have things that are non-negotiable, too.)

We aren’t a family with a lot of rituals, so this one is precious to me. Everyone has a part to play, no matter how small. My nephew, for example, is the one who’s skilled with the carving knife. Over the years that became his job. When he got married, everyone explained to his new wife, “Oh, he’s the one who cuts the turkey.”

Our family grows and changes as the years go by. Where my father once sat, he does no longer, which makes me painfully aware that one day, my mother too will be gone. That makes each celebration even more precious than the last.

Everyone is welcome at our table. Even with everything that’s going on in the world today, all the divisiveness and division that’s pulling us apart, we don’t push anyone out. We’re respectful and loving to everyone, not just to those with similar views. That’s a rule at my holiday table, and there are no ifs, ands, or buts. 

One more thing: We start Thanksgiving the night before so I can have 24 hours of uninterrupted time with my family. We always have food on the table at noon, because I want to be mindful of the fact that my kids will be leaving at around 5 pm to have dinner with their father. That’s non-negotiable, too. Everyone should be with the people they love on Thanksgiving, and my heart knows that includes those people who are sitting around a different table.

So I’m curious... What’s non-negotiable to you around the holidays? Is it a dish, a specific day, a specific tradition? Or is it something else?


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