For anyone unfamiliar: in America, the fourth Thursday in November is a Federal Holiday called Thanksgiving. This holiday commemorates a peaceful harvest meal celebrated by the European colonists and Native Americans nearly 500 years ago (more on that here). Somewhere along the way it became about appreciating your blessings. Now it’s mostly all about food, family, football, and Black Friday. (Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally considered the first shopping day of the Christmas season, when most retailers go from “being in the red” to “being in the black”. More on that here.)
Growing up, my family spent Thanksgiving with our paternal relatives as they lived nearby. Back then, Black Friday wasn’t such a big thing. (Or at least it didn’t seem like it, maybe because the media wasn’t so omnipresent with the internet and all.) Typically, we would go to my paternal grandparents’ house where my grandmother would cook. Stuffing came out of a box and cranberries out of a can, but we always had mashed potatoes freshly smooshed by hand. The kitchen was too small for more than one or two people, so usually I wasn’t allowed to help until the meal was nearly done. As usual for family gatherings, I was in charge of drinks. Then we would all sit around the table, pose for a picture, and dig in. Sometimes we went around the table and shared what we were thankful for, sometimes we just ate until there was nothing left (grandma hated leftovers). The Friday after Thanksgiving was spent at home, relaxing.
After my grandfather had a stroke, and my grandmother sold her house, my aunt (I mean, the only aunt who lived in the area) took over holiday dinners. I hated this. Not because my aunt wasn’t a good cook (she was a fabulous cook), and not because I didn’t like her (she was actually my favorite aunt for years), but because she was married to the man who abused me. I didn’t tell her about the abuse until I was an adult, and when I did she asked me to keep it a secret (and did little about it). My aunt’s house was even smaller than my grandparents’ and somehow it seemed as if I always ended up sitting next to my abuser.
The older I got the more uncomfortable I was with being in that household. There were years where I became physically ill from the stress of being there. I hated having to act as if nothing had happened. As if he hadn’t taken away part of my childhood. But I had promised (because of my own misguided sense of shame) not to tell the rest of the family about the abuse, so I felt obligated to act as if I was fine being there. I learned to smile through the pain in my stomach, to hug him without revealing my revulsion, to keep from shaking with anger.
It wasn’t until my paternal grandmother died that I experienced a Thanksgiving without the stress of being near my abuser. From 2009 to now, I’ve spend Thanksgiving at my brother and sister-in-law’s house. My sister-in-law is a great cook and loves to host holiday/family dinners. She lets her kids and grandkids help and makes as much of the dinner from scratch as she can. There are always prayers and laughter. Often, friends are invited. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, I may or may not participate in the Black Friday shopping.
But the holiday still gives me anxiety. As much as I love my brother and sister-in-law, their celebration of the holiday is different than how I would celebrate. It’s more rambunctious, louder, crowded. It works for them, and I love that about them. I love that they open their home to friends. They’re wonderful people and deserve every bit of happiness they have. It’s just unfortunate that I don’t enjoy loud, crowded and rambunctious. I like quiet and small. Rambunctious I can handle (as this usually comes from the under 10 crowd. Kids I’m good with.) I’m just hoping that one day I can celebrate this holiday stress-free with an emphasis on thankfulness and peace.
That said, this year I am thankful (in no particular order) for:
- You! Thank you for reading my blog.
- Health. Both physical and mental.
- Family and friends
- Blue skies and fluffy clouds
- The internet. It helps distract me.
- Unemployment insurance. Otherwise I’d be homeless and car-less.
- That I’m not in a hospital. For any reason.
- Modern medicine. Without it I’d be either dead or in a hospital.
- God “from whom all blessings flow.”
Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate!
Happy Hanukah to all who celebrate!
Blessings to all of you.