Thanksgiving is a huge deal to me. Once November hits I immediately begin brainstorming menu ideas, and researching new techniques for old recipes. I start eyeing the turkeys at the grocery store, and crossing my fingers in hopes that the sugar pumpkins don’t go out of stock before I’m ready for them (because yes, I use actual pumpkin puree in my cooking). Since my husband and I have been spending our holidays together, I’ve scratched my brain over how to make Thanksgiving work in my favor. I disliked the idea of sharing responsibilities and not hosting in our home. Hospitality is a particular gift I want to strengthen within myself, and it’s a form of ministry I want to keep up with. However, I also need to respect the traditions of my husband’s family. I completely understood that I couldn’t dominate the holiday and expect everyone to make their pilgrimage (no pun intended) to my house from various parts of the region just because I wouldn’t give up my insistence that I host Thanksgiving every year..
So I compromised. Thanksgiving is always on a Thursday, and within Judaism we prepare special weekly meals on Friday nights in order to welcome in Shabbat (the Sabbath). Right there was an easy solution, and one that actually adds a deeper meaning to this beautiful holiday. Thursday we do whatever the rest of the family is doing, while the next Friday night we extend the celebration with out closest friends for a Thanksgiving-Shabbat meal. It also gives us an opportunity to be thankful not just for our blood relatives, but also for our closest friends who we consider part of the family as well.
This would be the first year I’m throwing this Shabbat Thanksgiving dinner, and I’ve been pondering what it is that makes it so important for me to host Thanksgiving. Taking one look at my son, I knew the answer to this immediately: It’s for my children.
In my memories, Thanksgiving is distinct and precious. My grandmother woke up early to prep the turkey, and by noon the house smelled incredible. I remember the happiness that radiated off of her as she stood in the kitchen all day, watching every detail that went into preparing the food. I remember sitting at the table stirring various mixes, and taking in all of her kitchen know-hows she was passing along to me as I assisted her. It’s a memory heavy with warmth, and something I believe helped shape me into the person that I am.
I want to cook Thanksgiving dinner, because that is a memory I want my children to share with me. I want them to see me planning menus, comparing turkey sizes, spending a week dividing the work into increments of what can be prepared ahead of time and what will be cooked day of. I want my kids to see me in the kitchen, radiating with happiness and spouting my own kitchen know-hows as I create culinary masterpieces from scratch. I want them to inhale the same smells I breathed during the Thanksgivings of my own childhood.
In our world, we get so caught up in our individual successes. We want the jobs that come with flashy titles and fancy pay checks. Our vacations and adventures define how much we are truly “living” life. Simplicity is boring, and we’re pushed to spend our most lively and energetic years in “self-discovery”. As I’m growing more and more into my role as a stay at home mother in the most traditional sense, I’m beginning to realize the worth of this simple lifestyle, the kind of lifestyle where cooking Thanksgiving dinner for my family and friends every year is an enormous deal.
Despite the simple lifestyle I lead, I still acknowledge the fact that I’m in my years of self-discovery, and I fully take advantage of the energy I have as a young 20-something. I learn who I am by the things I’m instilling in my child, pulling out the morals and convictions that are most important to me, and observing the changes in the way I view the world now that I’m responsible for raising another human being. I wear myself out keeping up with a toddler while at the same time keeping my home a comfortable environment for the entire family. As Thanksgiving rolls around, I’m making shopping lists and looking ahead to a week of constant food preparation. I’m doing these things while I’m still young and able, fitting in as much of it as I can in my life.
Yes, I am definitely living life. As I sit back this Thanksgiving basking in the tremendous relationships that I am blessed with (whether it’s my son, husband, family, or friends), I will be spending every moment thanking G-d for the beauty of it all.
So perhaps I’m a little frantic when it comes to Thanksgiving, but it is my way of showing my loved ones how Thankful I am for them. It’s not about the food itself, though I do admit I have a deep love for cooking. It’s about the message that the food carries. When I’m 65 years old, perhaps I’ll be ready to pass the kitchen over to someone else. Preferably a daughter of mine (be it my own child or an in-law). That is still quite a few decades away, and until then I fully intend to exhaust myself, because that is what my loved ones deserve, and that is how I want to live my life.