We had just finished dinner. Dishes were piled high in the sink, the stove was covered with used pots that had leftover green beans and mashed potatoes inside them and people were already starting to leave the house.
This was a few years ago, when for the first time after a Thanksgiving dinner, I thought to myself, “That’s it?”
We work so hard on preparing food, we eat it and then that’s it. Or, then there’s the cleanup. But I had this overwhelming feeling that the holiday was over, even if the day hadn’t ended.
Everyone’s Thanksgiving Day is different, but I’ve begun to realize it’s a different kind of holiday for everyone.
For my family, which has hosted more than 20 people the last few years on Thanksgiving, the atmosphere of the day depends on whether we cook the meal ourselves.
We might hang out after a meal, watch the kids run off their sugar high from the desserts and talk for hours, but we’re also not the type of family that will play a game of football together. And depending on what time of day we eat, at least half of the party has to leave to have a Thanksgiving meal with the other side of their family.
The best Thanksgiving I ever had was the first time the women in the family decided we wanted to cook everything, including the turkey, which is an item we usually order.
Still in our pajamas, the women crammed together in my mom’s narrow kitchen. We fought for counter space, the use of the oven or stove and complained about the dirty dishes we’d have to clean before we were done.
Later was my “aha” moment. While the meal and conversation was enjoyable, it went by so quickly that before I knew it I was washing dishes. I realized what made creating the meal worth it was the actual process of cooking it.
Since then I’ve had a variety of Thanksgiving experiences.
One time I was in the Caribbean Sea on a cruise liner eating Thanksgiving dinner with distant family I barely knew.
The food was good, but there wasn’t much in line of a typical Thanksgiving meal. The people I ate with were fun to talk to, but at the end of the night I felt that I’d missed a real Thanksgiving — one with cooking, pigging out and telling embarrassing stories about siblings from when we were little.
Last year, my brother and his family hosted Thanksgiving. Most of the food was brought already prepared and just had to be heated up.
It was a great day, but even my sister-in-law mentioned to me that it just didn’t feel the same.
Throughout my life, we’ve bought our Thanksgiving meal, we’ve eaten out and we’ve cooked it all together as a family.
While the day might be a good day with any of those options, it’s only when we’re able to do the latter that Thanksgiving feels like more than just another day.
When I’m able to watch the turkey brown in the oven and have the smell of cooked meats fill the air with the scent of stuffing and warm bread, then I know I’m going to have a good, all-around Thanksgiving.
Not everyone has the opportunity to cook their Thanksgiving meal, whether they live away from family or don’t know how to cook a turkey (I’m guilty of that), but what’s the peak of Thanksgiving Day for me might not be for someone else. And that’s what I think makes a sometimes-overlooked holiday one that can be special for anyone.
But if you have the chance to cook the meal with other family members, I suggest trying it at least once. After almost elbowing people out of the kitchen all morning, you might just look back and realize it was the best part of the day.