The holidays are fast approaching and reminding me of when I was young and excited about my first holiday in MY own apartment. I thought of how we celebrated Thanksgiving with turkey, dressing (no oysters by the way), sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and by all means don’t forget the canned cranberry sauce! Good heavens, my father thought the canned cranberries were just the bomb… open on both ends, run your knife around the inside of the can and slide onto a small plate. Then the best part in his mind – slice the cranberries right on the rings where they fit in the can… just brilliant he would comment. Of course, there would be pies… pumpkin, chocolate and something momma called mincemeat pie which I was never brave enough to try. But the big experience of the day was the soup we had about 11:30 as a teaser for the 12:30 meal. The soup was always served in a small coffee mug with seasoned bread sticks. My mother rotated her soups each year and even wrote on her calendar which soup was served that year! What a process it was.
The week before Thanksgiving at work the talk was all about what we would be cooking. I listened for a while and then just couldn’t help myself. What? You aren’t having turkey? You are having Cornish hens… that’s just weird. No CANNED cranberries, I exclaimed… just wrong, so wrong! I began to feel sorry for my friends as they were so off base. One friend actual said that her family served ham at Thanksgiving and another told me how wrong that we didn’t serve corn, after all, the Native Americans brought corn to the first Thanksgiving. It all had my head spinning.
As the holiday drew closer and I realized that I would be alone, due to the work schedule I couldn’t go home… all those silly things I thought began to fade away. I really didn’t care if there was no turkey. Cranberries, corn or potatoes really didn’t make the experience of Thanksgiving a joy for me, it was my family and friends. The holidays meant listening to my Uncle telling stories of his childhood. My Aunts swarming in the kitchen with my mom as they put finishing touches on the food. Watching the kids running through the dining room snatching an olive or deviled egg… those were really the experiences of the day that mattered. In later years, buying a turkey and all the fixings for a family in need, taking a plate of food to an elderly or lonely neighbor. Those experiences blessed me and enriched my life and set examples of kindness for my children.
Regardless, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Hanukah, the customs and traditions are wonderful but the experiences that bring joy and fill our hearts happen when we share it with people, not things. Many years from my first grown Thanksgiving with many memories, one still remains strong. It was a cold day, now nightfall and we were making the two hour drive back home. My children wanted a snack and we stopped at a burger house and went inside to order. As we waited, I saw a young soldier that I knew was before us and told the man at the register, “He was before us.” The man replied no he is waiting to talk to the Manager, so I ordered and stepped back to wait. Soon, I heard the young man say “Your manager told me if I was hungry to please come tell him and he would give me a burger.” The guy at the register was rude and said well his isn’t here you will just need to wait.
Suddenly, anger flew all over me. We had been stuffing ourselves all day and this young soldier was hungry. I got up and asked him to come with me to the counter, he looked confused but did what I asked. I told the guy at the register “He has an order” and told the young man to order what he wanted. He seemed hesitant but finally did and asked me if he could order a small burger for his dog who was hungry too. After getting our food we all walked out together and watched his dog have a great Thanksgiving meal. The soldier thanked me more than once as we parted reminding me once again, it’s really not about the food, it’s about pausing and finding the things that truly matter, family, friends, or even strangers who need a smile. Perhaps during the holidays we can all find experiences to bless us… it really is better than getting a holiday sweater or ugly tie.