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Treasured Thanksgiving Tradition

Thanksgiving is the official kick off to the holiday season. The holidays can bring forth feelings of anticipation and excitement as well as stress, anxiety, and sadness. Anticipation and excitement may arise in preparing for gathering with friends and family that you may not often see or get to spend much time with. These feelings may even be associated with certain dishes of food that are only made for the holiday. Stress, anxiety, and sadness are also commonly experienced during this time of year. These feelings may surface as you begin creating your to-do list for the holiday and start to feel overwhelmed. However, they can also be triggered by memories, events, or experiences of the past. For example, you may need to face others who pass judgment and criticize what you do, say or wear. Sadness may also emerge as you reflect on the loss of loved ones who are missed, particularly on these special days.

Regardless of the specific feelings that arise, it is important to think about how they may be associated with certain yearly traditions. I must admit that the idea of establishing or being part of a tradition was not always something I welcomed when I was younger. The night before Thanksgiving is historically known to be a time for young adults to go out and meet up with friends. Especially with those who are back home for the first time since going away to college. Spending the night out and sleeping in until Thanksgiving afternoon however was not anything to which I could relate. For me, it was a night to help my mom prepare for the next day. Cleaning up, slicing vegetables and fruit was part of it, but making grandma’s stuffing and cleaning out the turkey were the focus. Cleaning out the turkey was one thing my mom hated doing. I ended up taking over that job as she would oversee and direct me.

My mom counted on me to help her, and I did not want to disappoint her. After all, she was my best friend. I never quite understood why she relied on me and did not depend on my younger sister as much. Yes, she is 10 years younger than me, but she could have watched and learned how the stuffing was made. I somehow felt my sister was excused from the process just because she was younger and for some reason that did not change even when she was a teenager. Once I started working full-time the night before Thanksgiving was still full of preparations to be done with mom. Even after I was married, I would go over the night before Thanksgiving to help mom. My sister helped do some things, but she never really got involved in the big jobs, cleaning the turkey and making the stuffing.

Looking back now, I think mom just needed to know that one of us knew how to make a stuffed turkey for Thanksgiving. After all, I was the older child and could always teach my younger sister. Mom was an only child so maybe she did not see it necessary to have us share the responsibility. She may not have even thought of it as creating a tradition. She may have just considered it to be a special holiday meal that required a lot of work and assistance. I think this was particularly true once my grandmother passed away. My mom would talk things through with me and even though I was not always sure of what she said I believe my presence and affirmations (despite my uncertainty) provided a sense of reassurance as well as kitchen companionship. She appreciated not having to do it all alone and getting some thoughts from me along the way.

Spending time preparing the Thanksgiving meal was something we did together as a team. We maximized each others strengths to create a wonderful holiday meal. It was a time in which she shared stories and we could easily talk about things that were happening in our lives. It was a casual and informal environment that allowed for open conversational exchange. I felt a bond between us on these days which helped our friendship grow. It no longer felt like a mother- daughter teaching/learning experience. We were like close friends working side-by-side toward the same goal and just enjoying being with one another.

I truly miss this special time with my mom. Oddly enough, it was the night before Thanksgiving that mom arrested while she was sick in the hospital in 2007 and passed away seven months later. I’m sorry that my sister did not get to experience or share in this so-called tradition the same way I did. I regret not having pushed or asked for her to be more involved. Maybe what I thought was a lack of interest may have been her feeling somewhat out of place with what we were doing.

Reflecting and writing this personal article has reinforced that preparing the main meal is my favorite Thanksgiving tradition. I’ve learned that it’s not just a task or something to check off on the list. It is not even about following a recipe. Instead, I see it as a spending quality time performing a shared activity, with close family and/or friends. A way to foster and deepen relationships as well as bring about tradition. In a world that is always busy, it is a wonderful way to take time out to be with those that matter most and reconnect. Human connection and sharing are so essential to the quality of our life. This is something we have be reminded of over the past 20 months.

I look forward to spending time with my daughters and sister to keep this tradition alive. I intend to share stories with my daughters about the grandmother they did not get to meet and make new stories of our own. I can only hope that they will come to enjoy the time together as much as I cherish the time I had with my mom.

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