Crafting Meaningful Thanksgiving Traditions in a Time of Transition

As we kick off the holiday season with Thanksgiving, it’s only natural to think about tradition.  For so many of us, the holidays and related traditions are linked with memories going back to childhood.  And if you are newly single, it can be a time that brings sadness and grief about how life used to be.  But it can also be an opportunity to create new traditions or focus on those traditions you cherish the most while letting others fall by the wayside.

Thanksgiving Memories from Childhood

For me, Thanksgiving dinners growing up were never very large affairs.  In fact, most of the Thanksgivings I remember were only three people, my brother, myself and whichever of our parents was entitled to Thanksgiving on the custody calendar for that year.  Our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins lived all over the US and travelling to see any of them was rarely in the cards.  So, we had small Thanksgiving dinners at home, with just the three of us.

While it may not have looked like the Thanksgiving you see on TV, when I think of holidays and family and tradition, I think of Thanksgiving.  It’s my favorite holiday and one that I look forward to with anticipation for weeks beforehand.  I love cooking all of the traditional foods that I remember from my childhood.  The stuffing I make is my mother’s recipe and something about the smells of the butter and onions sautéing for that stuffing early on Thanksgiving morning takes me right back to my childhood.  I also set the table with her China, just as she did.  It’s the one time a year that I bring out those special dishes and I am always a bit anxious with my rambunctious boys running around, but it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without them on the table.

Now that I have my own family, I cherish being able to create these memories for my children.  And I know that they are developing the same connections with the holiday and the food that I have.  This year, as I was putting together the menu (which is basically the same every year), I suggested that perhaps we try a different dessert.  Not because I don’t love what we usually have, but because I have been seeing lots of new recipes that look good, and I always enjoy trying new recipes.  But that idea was quickly discouraged.  To them, Thanksgiving is synonymous with apple pie and pumpkin pie and anything else just won’t do.

Creating New Traditions in a New Season

Change is hard, especially during the holidays.  Rather than letting it get you down, use this as a time to reflect on how far you have come.  Maybe you are in a different place than you imagined at this point in your life.  But think about what you have accomplished that you are proud of.  You have likely had to learn new things, take on new challenges and develop independence.  None of that is easy and you should be proud of yourself for how far you have come.

It’s also a time to reflect on your values and priorities.  What holiday traditions do you love?  And which can you live without?  Are you tired of spending Thanksgiving with your second Cousin Phil, who kind of creeps you out?  Maybe it’s time to change that.  Are there things you loved about the holidays as a child that you didn’t get to recreate during your marriage?  Take this opportunity to revisit and revive those traditions as you create new memories for yourself and your children.  Be a little bit selfish and create the holiday season that makes you feel joy at this time in your life.

Another way to bring more joy to the season is to incorporate your personal passions.  Love spending the day in the kitchen cooking an entire Thanksgiving dinner?  Then do that.  But if what you really love is baking, then volunteer to make the pies or other treats while someone else does the turkey.  And if cooking isn’t your jam but you love creating art, then find a way to bring your artwork to the meal and leave the cooking to someone else.  By finding a way to focus on your passions, you can find your joy.

Embracing Gratitude & Connection

Thanksgiving is also a time to embrace gratitude.  The holiday is all about giving thanks for what we have.  It’s a great reminder to reflect on what you are grateful for.  Even if life has thrown you some curveballs this year, there are still things to be grateful for.  Whether its health or family or sweater weather or Pumpkin Spice lattes, this season offers so much to enjoy.  Don’t let the little things go unnoticed or unappreciated.  Focusing on gratitude can be a great way to help you get through tough times.

This can also be a time to nurture relationships.  Whether it’s spending some quiet time with your kids or reconnecting with friends and family that you haven’t spent as much time with as you would like.  The holidays create an excuse to reach out and connect.  Lean on those around you for support as you seek to rebuild your traditions.

Reflecting Back and Looking Forward

As I start to prepare our Thanksgiving dinner this year, I can’t help but reflect back to all the memories this holiday carries for me.  Cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, turkey and all the pie.  The food is a big part of it.  But beyond the food, it’s family.  It’s traditions and memories that take me back to my childhood and that I hope my children carry on to their children. 

So, if your Thanksgiving looks and feels different this year, it’s ok to be sad about that.  But it is also ok to create new traditions.  Or to dig out old traditions and start them anew.  Your holidays don’t have to look like a Hallmark channel movie, they can look like whatever brings you joy.  If that is spending all day cooking a turkey and stuffing and sweet potatoes, great.  If that is going to a friend’s house and just bringing the wine, then that is fine too.  You get to decide how you spend your day and the memories that you create.

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