Christmas comes after Thanksgiving for me. Not because I don't like listening to hours upon hours of Christmas music or because I want to wait until the very last minute to decorate my home with tinsel and cheer. It comes after Thanksgiving because I never want this holiday to be overlooked. In fact, it just shouldn't be.
Ever since I was a little girl, Thanksgiving has been quite the ordeal in my home. I've learned a lot working side by side with my mother in the kitchen, and side by side with her at the table. What is it that I've learned? Let me enlighten you.
My mom loves being around people, but even more than that, she loves loving people. She loves taking her home and creating it to be a safe place that others can feel as if it is their home. Maybe it is because much of her childhood was absent of safety, love and care as she was in and out of foster homes. Or maybe it's because she eventually experienced what it felt like to be loved in a home, and wanted to impart that on to everyone else. Either way, I know she has taught me a lot about what it means to love and recognize others through this holiday in particular.
My mom says something every year to us kids that we usually end up laughing at. She says "I think this year Thanksgiving is just going to be a few people." Us kids roll our eyes (a good type of eye roll) and NEVER believe her. It's because we know our mom, and we know her heart.
Here's the thing. My mom ends up inviting people who need a home to celebrate Thanksgiving at. She ends up working some type of mystical magic that makes everyone feel welcomed and accepted. I've learned that part of this magic comes from a proper preparation.
We clear out the couches the night before Thanksgiving, and set up what feels like miles of table. I've learned that every seat is decorated to a point where you can't help but feel special with your personalized name card resting on your plate, and I've learned to begin cooking, baking and prepping hours before the feast begins.
Morning of, with homemade rolls in the oven, the pumpkin pies already sitting on the counter, and the Macy Day Parade turned on in the background, a joy filled craziness takes its rightful place in the home. My sister and I begin filling our roles to help make this event happen. Last touches on the table are made, and the green been casserole and stuffing are popped into the oven. I've learned to stop stealing the olives and dill pickles off the table before dinner, and I've learned to not get caught sitting watching the Macy Day Parade when I could be doing many other things.
Then, the people come. And it feels like one big family. Blood or not, the second you walk through my parent's door, you are considered family. I've learned that this is priceless.
As we all take our seats watching the steaming food with salivating mouths, both my mom and dad stop us before we dig in. They stop us. We pause. We reflect. We take 20 minutes out of our year and say out loud what we have been most thankful for over the past year. Each person speaks while everyone listens. Consumerism, busyness, stress, worry and selfishness all take a backseat while pure thankfulness rides front and center. Without fail, I cry. I become so moved while hearing all of the things people are thankful for, and when it comes to me, I never feel like words can express the deep thankfulness that resides in my heart.
Then, we eat. Conversation fills the air while turkey and mashed potatoes fill our stomachs. From this point forward, the stage has been set for a slow night focused on others.
I've learned that my mom washes the dishes, and all of us kids clear the table, put the food away, and prepare for the second part of the afternoon. When all of the leftover cranberries and gravy have been properly stowed away, the couches are returned, the football is turned on, and the traditional board games are brought out to be played. We rest in the presence of good company.
If you understand this type of Thanksgiving, I'm beyond grateful that you do. If this sounds too good to be true, know that even though I can't fully understand, my heart aches that you haven't experienced it. But, I know someone who does understand--my mom. She gets it. She didn't have it either. Growing up as an abused child in and out of foster homes, family was obscure, confusing and hard to come by. I can't imagine what holidays were like.
I've learned what holidays can be like though. My mom made a choice. She chose to give to others what she didn't have. I've learned from her that it's never too late to change past experiences. My mom chose to create a place where other people could feel safe. Where people feel welcomed. Where people can stop and feel thankful.
I've learned a lot from my mom on how to make a Thanksgiving run smoothly, taste good, and be a lot of fun. But more than those things, I've learned from her the heart behind the holiday. I've learned that it's not about me, but about those around me. How I treat my neighbors, how I express my thankfulness, how I love those who are in my circle, how there is a need to stop and acknowledge the good--these are the ways to make a Thanksgiving more than fun.
So, whether you have 40 people surround your table, or 4, would you take a moment on this Thanksgiving holiday and audibly say what you are thankful for?