Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Some years, I think Thanksgiving beats Christmas, but it’s always a close call. Let’s face it; T-Day has all my favorite pastimes in one single day. Family. Food. Football. Naps. Food. I’m not much for the football side of it, BUT I include it on my list because I take excellent naps while my family is cheering on a team on television. What can I say? A little background noise makes for a good nap.
My mother-in-law has graciously let me host Thanksgiving a few times, despite that incident when I tried to poison her by serving severely undercooked chicken. There’s nothing like taking a few bites of chicken thinking it’s really dry (and chewy) only to discover that the chewiness is because it’s raw. Lord have mercy. On me.
I’ll admit that I always felt a tad bit sorry for those who dined out on Thanksgiving.
I couldn’t imagine not planning out a menu, shopping, and marathon cooking (or helping someone else cook). It’s a LOT of work to cook a huge meal for a group of people, but it’s work I’ve always enjoyed. The whole ritual of preparing for the actual day is ingrained in me. That’s just what you do on T-Day. I love cooking and feeding people–it’s a part of my love language. I’ve always loved the entire process.
Until the year I didn’t.
Last Thanksgiving, my son was barely a month old. I had come to the end of a very long and very mentally exhausting pregnancy. (Honestly, aren’t all pregnancies that way??) As anyone with children knows, those first few months with a new baby can get pretty hairy. Trying to find our new normal with a colicky baby, a rambunctious toddler, and a Dad whose work load had kicked into high gear — it threw our entire world on edge. I was barely functioning. Driving anywhere was out of the question, so our family agreed to come visit us. I quickly felt overwhelmed with the thought of shopping and cooking a large meal, even though I would have had lots of help. It was too much.
Enter in my mother-in-law and her suggestion of going to eat out. Say what!?
At first, my mind went to thoughts of “She doesn’t want to eat my cooking. She doesn’t think I can handle it.” (Also, see above re: poisoning via chicken and being a walking zombie.) The truth was, I couldn’t handle it, and I took the gracious offer. I couldn’t stop feeling that I had broken Thanksgiving though. For 32 years T-Day had been exactly one way — hence why it’s called a tradition. That tradition was incredibly important to me, and here I was ruining it for everyone because I couldn’t get myself together.
In my world, I had literally broken Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving morning started off pretty chill. I didn’t have to wake up super early to start cooking. In fact, I hadn’t done any shopping outside of a normal grocery run a few days before. There was no consulting of lists to see what needed to be prepped for later. I strolled up in my kitchen and had a granola bar. I had a cup of hot coffee. We decided on Copper Cellar West because they were offering a special Thanksgiving Day buffet, and we had heard great things about their Sunday buffets. We didn’t have reservations, but we were able to get in pretty quickly. (I would DEFINITELY get reservations in the future though!)
Imagine my surprise to see lots of groups with family and friends. The food was delicious. The fact that I didn’t have to shop or cook for it made it even more yummy. We ate. Oh honey did we eat. There was a dish — let’s call it Slap Ya Momma Mac and Cheese. It was a mixture of the creamiest mac and cheese mixed with this amazing spinach queso. Ya’ll. I had myself a moment. It was that good. We talked. We laughed. We took our time and didn’t feel rushed. I caught snippets of fellow diners’ conversations on my (many) trips to the buffet.
My favorite conversation I overheard went a little like this:
Woman 1: “Talk about Providence. When she said her oven was dead, all I could think was ‘Jesus hears our prayers.’ If I had to eat that dry ol’ turkey and mystery stuffing another year…”
Woman 2: “Right!? I mean, what is IN that stuffing? At least get some Pepperidge Farm or something if you can’t make it yourself.”
Woman 1: “I think she said it was from Saveur magazine. I bet she can’t even spell Saveur…”
Woman 2: “She tries to be too fancy. I mean, just cook real food. You know she doesn’t get fancy when she has to bring a dish to pass. If it comes in a Publix container, you know it’s from her. Why she feels the need to cook all these Top Chef dishes for Thanksgiving I’ll never know.”
Woman 1: “I said it before, but Thank God for faulty ovens.”
What had started as a break from tradition and feelings of sadness, turned out to be exactly what I needed. My family was there. We were still sitting and talking to each other. We were still catching snippets of football (thank you wireless data). I still ate more than was smart, but I got to blame it on being a nursing mom. Bless those late fall babies. Bless them good. I even got to take a nap when we got back to the house.
Want to know the best part? The part that made my toes curl and flipped my switch? I.Didn’t.Clean.A.Sinlge.Dish. In fact, I woke up to a clean kitchen and went to sleep with a clean kitchen. It was glorious.
If you are in a space where your holiday traditions feel like more of a burden than a joy, consider a clean break. Step outside the box and make a new tradition. I will always hold a special place in my heart for my family’s Thanksgiving traditions, but in this season of life, they don’t bring joy and that sense of peace. In fact, this year, we plan to repeat last year and go back to Copper Cellar OR we might decide that Cracker Barrel would hit the spot (and have seats). The point is, our family will share a meal together and have a great time. The “where” we spend the day isn’t the important part — the “who” we spend it with is.