What Makes Your Thanksgiving Special?

Readers Reminisce

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Thanksgiving Dinner for Less

editor's note: The holidays can be a challenge for many of us. They're especially difficult if you're short on time and money. We asked readers to share what made their Thanksgiving special. Hope you're blessed and encouraged by their memories.

The Tablecloth

Our family has a tablecloth that we use every Thanksgiving. It was a plain white cloth, but every year whoever eats Thanksgiving dinner signs their name and (if they want to) draws a picture using fabric paint. We have a very colorful cloth now. It's fun to see what everyone drew in the past years. I've done my son's handprints and last year drew an oven with a bun in it (I was pregnant).

Oh, the Parades!

I grew up in a small town in Connecticut. My Mom was and is still a parade nut, every Thanksgiving morning she reverted to childhood by gluing herself to the (black & white) television set to watch all the parades. Usually we went to my grandmother's for dinner so she was free to indulge in her passion for big parades. My little sister and I grew out of parades and were quite relieved when our high school started playing our cross town rivals on Thanksgiving , so we could escape parade mania (look at the Snoopy balloon isn't it cute.)

I know exactly where my seventy year old Mother will be Nov. 27 in the morning when I call her to say Happy Thanksgiving. She will be happily sitting in her apartment, coffee cup in hand, watching Snoopy and company float down the streets of New York.

Our Tradition

Here's a Thanksgiving tradition at our household:
First of all, we gather the local family (as many as can make it) at our house. My wife's mother stays overnight, and we all get up early on Thanksgiving day to prepare the meal.

I'm responsible for cleaning and preparing the turkey and the stuffing (with careful oversight by my mother-in-law, of course!). (I'm also responsible for cutting the turkey...a Family Tradition. I haven't lost a finger yet...!)

When everyone arrives, we assign table setting, mashed potato, water and drink, and vegetable duties. My father- and brother-in-law are responsible for taste-testing the turkey (a difficult task) and keeping tabs on the younger generation. They are also responsible for keeping tabs on the football game for me (since I'm usually in the kitchen with my wife and the rest of the ladies...).

When we sit down to dinner, I ask my father-in-law to bless the meal (which he usually refuses to do...so, as the man of the house, I usually oblige). Then we go around the table and tell of one thing we are thankful for. We finish this off by breaking bread and taking some sparkling grape juice as a communion, thanking God for all He's done for us, and for His provision. (After all, that's what we're supposed to be celebrating, isn't it?!?!?)

After dinner, we divvy up the left-overs for each family, and the men do the dishes. All in all, we've had about 10 years' experience, and have never had a complaint.

Here's a second Family Tradition from our friends, the S. family. Every year, they advertise an invitation to all foreign students on the SUNY Brockport college campus to come to their house for an American Thanksgiving dinner. Students need only come: no obligation to them. They do the usual dinner thing, but also explain why we celebrate Thanksgiving, and ask each student to introduce themselves, where they're from, and what they think of the United States. They also play games, and include the children in all activities (if there are any...they have 3 kids). This is always a success, and they have from 8 - 20 students show up each year.

They have made lasting friendships with many of the students. We have followed up with Christmas and New Years' parties at our house as well. It's really fun, it's a friendly gesture (especially to many of these students, who don't have family to spend the holiday with), and it's relatively inexpensive: often, the students bring a dish from their own country and share it with the rest of the folks. Other families chip in and attend as well, making the students feel even more at home.
Enjoy the holiday! Be thankful!

You might also like: Decorating for Thanksgiving

Share the Blessing

You wondered what some readers did to make Thanksgiving special...
Last year, before our family and guests arrived, I cut paper into fortune cookie-size strips. When everyone arrived, I explained that we were going to something this year. (There was definitely some resistance to the thought of a new idea, but I was prepared for that.)

Each person was asked to take two strips and a pen from a basket. On one slip, they were to write one thing or person they were thankful for, and a wish for another person on the other slip.

I took the slips, went into the kitchen, and rolled them into crescent rolls. At dinner, everyone took the rolls, opened them carefully, and read the wish or thankful thought. They were able to read it aloud if they wanted (which everyone did). It was a great idea...and one that made everyone aware of all the wonderful things they have in life...and also to receive a "blessing" from another person.
Ann R.

'Adopt' an An Airperson

Lackland AFB in San Antonio, TX for many years had a program called Project Home Cooked Meal, which offered to arrange local families to adopt Basic Trainees for Thanksgiving Day. We had the opportunity to host several young men and women. We would pick them up in the morning and take them back in the evening. They could enjoy the day watching football, playing with the kids and enjoy a good home cooked meal for what was probably their first thanksgiving away from home. It offered our kids the opportunity to have a big "family" dinner which we otherwise couldn't have because our family was in California. Everyone enjoyed the day and I got help with the dishes!!

My Family

It's November already! What am I thankful for?

I'm thankful for my husband, the Marine I've practically grown up with since our marriage a busy 12 years ago. He's taught me many intangibles, but most of all, he's helped me realize how blessed we are to have each other and our family.

Who'd have thought when we took our vows before God that we'd bear three strong boys? They're growing so fast. I remember watching them sleep as infants. I could sit and stare at them for hours. I marveled at how perfect God had created them: their little pink fingers and toes, their long eyelashes and beautiful soft skin, and, of course, their healthy sets of lungs! I watch them now, growing in body and spirit, struggling with their identities, their thoughts, their concepts of right and wrong. I am still, and will forever be, amazed!

I thought I knew what love was all about. I thought I knew what I would feel, what I would think when I was in love. I knew nothing.

Slowly, but surely I'm growing. The thought of my husband and our boys brings me an indescribable warmth. They are part of me, like breathing. For whatever reason, God brought us together. He didn't make the road smooth along the way, but He had His reasons and they've made us closer. I don't anticipate the future being any easier. It will take a lot of reminding myself that it's all for our own good. It will take patience and determination, but mostly, love.

I love my husband more than words can express. He is my right arm. He is the medicine that heals my hurts. He is my gift from heaven.

Thank you, God. You know me too well.
Mary C.

Related: Kids' Activities for Thanksgiving Gatherings

Work, Play and Memories

The company that my family owns is a money order business. Someone has to work every day of the year. I always request Thanksgiving. Because there was no day care available and my husband always runs a half marathon on Thanksgiving, my aunt Mary has kept my kids. Recently, my husband and I were making plans for this year's holidays. I asked Don if he was going to run in the "Turkey Trot". Matthew, our 3 year old piped up and said "Daddy, you have to run. Aunt Mary is EXPECTING us! She needs us to help her make pies!" (She is the pie maker for the holiday dinners.) Even 3 year olds have holiday memories and traditions.
Sylvia McA

Newly Married Memory

Here is a Thanksgiving memory..

Thanksgiving, 1990...my dear husband and I were newly married in the service and had a wonderful dinner with a wonderful family who also served lasagna..it was wonderful!! happy holidays everyone!!! --MA

An International Thanksgiving

I never thought I'd be responding to any of your topics, but this one about Thanksgiving Memories really touched one soft spot for me. Being from Canada, our Thanksgiving is celebrated in October. None-the-less, it is a celebration of thanks to God for the "bounty of the harvest". Year after year the celebration was exactly the same as a kid, so when I reached the ripe old age of 24 I determined to make Thanksgiving different - better than "tradition" ever had been or could be. This particular year I was living with some girls in the big city of Halifax. We had a broad circle of friends and companions - none of us had anyone special that year, but no one wanted to "go home for the holidays". Most of us were working, some were in University, and some were trying - rather successfully, to do both. However, most of our friends were "international students", or lived too far from home to go home. Thus, being the brain child that I was, I decided that "we" should have an "International Thanksgiving" celebration. The idea was wonderful, and was received by all with much enthusiasm. Each participant was to bring a "traditional" feast food of their homeland, and I would provide the turkey and dressing. When the grand day arrived, I cooked my first turkey with great success (and nausea over the handling of a dead bloody animal). Friends started arriving with grand and exotic dishes - I can't remember now what they were aside from candied carrots, steamed rice, and curried something. The food was wonderful, but the spirit of the participants was what made the day. Many of them had never celebrated Thanksgiving, and the contribution they made was by far the best and most memorable. It was this one Thanksgiving celebration that I remember every year at Thanksgiving. I developed a whole new appreciation for what being truly thankful was all about. If anyone considers Thanksgiving to be a ho-hum holiday, good for stuffing your face and watching football, I would suggest they go to a local university and talk with some of the International Students. Share the day and feast with someone who comes from a third world country, and learn what it is to be truely thankful for all God has so graciously given us. It changed my out look and my life for the better.

It's the People that Make It Special

Several years ago my extended family decided we needed to look at how we were spending our holidays. We decided that we were all feeling stressed by the holiday season and it was no longer a pleasure. We decided to quit giving gifts on any holiday other than the individual's birthday. For Thanksgiving, we rotate whose house we meet at. The person hosting buys and bakes the turkey, but isn't responsible for anything else. All other courses, paper products, etc. is divided up among the rest of the family according to what they consider to be their "specialty". Some of us make one particular dish well and are always requested to bring that particular dish. Everyone helps with cleanup, then we sit and visit , show each other photos from vacations, and play board games. We do the same thing for Christmas. At Christmas we only buy presents for the children and as the family has more little ones we may go to drawing names for children's presents. Trying to find the money to celebrate lavishly was becoming such a stress that the holidays were being ruined. Now that the emphasis is on the more spiritual aspects of the holidays and enjoying our family, the joy is back. We explain to friends that we want to enjoy good food and good company. It's a time to reconnect with people we love. And to count our blessings. Some years we actually do go around the circle and ask "What's right?" It's too easy to get caught up in what's wrong in our lives/ the world and forget what's good.

No Stove! And No...

I can remember one year our stove was broke and we could not cook with it. The holiday looked grim. No food would be cooked in the oven. We had received a turkey form someplace. My mom had a friend cook the turkey before Thanksgiving . We were going to heat it up in the microwave to eat it. We ended up going out somewhere that day. Much to our surprise when we got home our dogs had wanted some turkey also. While we were gone the dogs opened up the refrigerator door and took the turkey out. They had most of it eaten by the time we got back. Boy were we mad!But the dogs were thankful, even if they did steal the turkey.

Greeting Cards

We put placecards at each place that read, "I'm thankful you're...". Then, before dinner, we write on each card something about that person that we're thankful for.

A Un-Natural Thanksgiving

Several years ago, I decided to make my one real Thanksgiving wish a reality. I have always had this crazy idea to have Thanksgiving in the woods--(I still entertain the notion from time to time)--I mean the Pilgrims did it, didn't they?

As my list of "things to do" got longer and longer for this feat of courage, I began to realize that it really wasn't a very practical idea to lug a turkey and all the trimmings out to the woods. What I really wanted was to go camping, I guessed. So, I told the hubby and kids my plan: We would go camping on Thanksgiving and come home and have the traditional feast on the day after Thanksgiving. That way, I could use the leftovers all weekend!

At least I'm not boring! A little nuts, perhaps, but that too is appropriate for this time of the year. My 16 year old threatened to leave home if I carried through with this insanity. This was not an idle threat; he had been unhappy all year with the push and pull of blended family vs. natural dad issues. The campout happened and sure enough, the teenager packed his clothes and moved to dad's house across town.

I wish I could say that the rest of the family had a marvelous time on that Thanksgiving Day, but the shadow of the missing son only compounded our other misfortunes. It rained, it was cold, we ran out of toilet tissue, some hunters woke us up with the ringing of their shotgun blasts...we were all glad to get back home. I do think, though, it really made us appreciate our blessings the next day, when we were able to sit down together in a warm, comfortable setting and eat the feast.

A year passed before my son returned home. I never told him or anyone else, for that matter, the heartache of that first Thanksgiving without him. I hid my grief and pain all through the ensuing holiday season, and for many months after. But wounds do heal and loved ones reunite; the proof is in the pudding, as they say.

Next week, I will sit at the table with this son and his new wife, and others of my family, and we will eat the Traditional Thanksgiving Feast on the Traditional Fourth Thursday of November. And we will be grateful for each and every unique aspect of the day...like the tamales made by the Honduran mother-in-law, the bi-lingual chatter of a grandson running around proudly displaying his Hot Wheels, and even the mother who still dreams of having Thanksgiving dinner in the woods one day, I hope. At least, that beats having it at a Chinese Restaurant, I think. But that's another story for another day!

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