You would think that, after leaving all of my relatives at the age of eight to move to the Philippines, I would be a little less attached to family traditions. You would think that having each of the seven kids in my family go to boarding school for high school, I would be used to being apart. You would think that moving away from what I knew as “home” in California four summers ago, I would be accustomed to some loneliness around the holidays. You would think. But somehow, I have not been properly inoculated against feeling blue about being without old friends and family for this holiday. I blame it on the fact that Thanksgivings in the past have been so wonderful for me.
There was the one in the Philippines when my California-girl mom, severely missing Mexican food, went through a ton of trouble to make authentic tamales. This also included getting dried corn and lye, and soaking and grinding it to make the mixtamal from scratch, and all of the satisfaction that came from eating food that was so familiar to us in our life before we moved– even if it was steamed in banana leaves rather than corn husks.
There was the one when we had all of our American co-workers in the Philippines over for the big dinner at our house. We used all of the surfaces we could find, including our ping pong table, and made one long table, seating at least thirty people. All of the food was laid out before us, and we were enjoying our first bites, when somehow our pet monkey (Minnie) got loose, ran into the house and went on a crazy and surreal rampage down the middle of the banquet table! People were shrieking and scooting away from the table. She was snatching food from our plates and throwing silverware– it was absolutely hysterical!
There were the Thanksgiving meals with my relatives in California, where we established the tradition of a progressive dinner. So many families lived so close together that we would walk from home to home for each course. By the time dinner was over, we didn’t feel overly full or lethargic, since we’d been able to get a little exercise and fresh air along the way. These were my favorites, and it was such a milestone to be able to host “appetizers” in my first apartment when I was a college student. Never mind that I prepared only vegan food that not everyone was enthused about!
There was the time I went to spend the holiday with my older brother and his family in Chicago. I was barely of legal drinking age, and there were so many wines and home-brewed beers to try at their dinner. I remember sitting at the table, rather tipsy, trying to determine whether I was laughing too hard, or just the right amount; thinking hard about what to say next– can they tell? Do they know I’ve over done it a little? I think I managed to keep my secret, and I suspect most of us were in the same boat, but it was definitely a “coming of age” moment for me.
There was the Thanksgiving when I wasn’t with my own kin. I was living in a huge house with my brother and his family, and they went up to spend the holiday with his in-laws. I had the house to myself, and so my friend and I cooked and hosted dinner for her close family of four. I got a taste of life in a small family, the honor of cooking most of the meal, and it was wonderful and very memorable for being such an intimate affair!
There was the one right after we moved to Portland, and we were brand new home owners. We moved into our home in September, and then hosted Thanksgiving dinners for both sides of the family (two different meals!) in our tiny house. It was a little overkill, but I was so thrilled to finally be able to host such an important event. There was so little counter space that we had to put the cooked turkey and some other dishes in the bathtub until we were ready to serve them, and we even had to use the floor as a viable surface. A little crazy, but extremely satisfying, and a sweet memory of having “arrived” as real grownups.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, beats sitting around the table with people you cherish, eating food made with love, having lively conversation or playing games afterward. It is simply the best, most heart-warming feeling ever. So I realized yesterday why it was that I had been feeling down lately. In all of my living overseas, or in different states, with or without family, this is the first year that we are not sitting down to eat a traditional meal with family or friends. It feels sad. But I also realized– I am 31 years old, and this is the first time! It’s OK. Surely next year we will have friends to invite, or even family visiting, and we’ll pick up and make some more wonderful Thanksgiving memories. So enjoy your family, enjoy your friends, enjoy that wonderful food. We are all so blessed.
Do you have a favorite one to share?
Wishing you the best this year, and wonderful times as you celebrate wherever you are, and with whomever you are! Happy Thanksgiving!