For some of you this means drawing close with extended family, mom’s homemade apple pie, grandma’s stuffing, and aunt Bertie’s famous green bean casserole.
It means a full house, football playing in the background, women shuffling in and out of the kitchen, and a Starbucks run for pumpkin spice lattes.
I’ve been an missionary living overseas for most of my adult life now. Thanksgiving rolls around here and… it’s a Thursday workday as usual. Summer’s arrived. We’re wearing shorts and flip flops. School-aged kids need to be dropped off at school, there is no long weekend to look forward to, no special sales in the days to come, and if you want to watch any sports on TV… let’s hope you enjoy cricket. (Snore.)
Turkey is so unusual here that to buy a small one to feed my family of four I’d be looking at dishing out $50. At least. (Unfortunately, I’m not exaggerating.)
Despite my inability to wear cute boots and decorate our house with colorful autumn leaves (of the non-fake variety), or have a huge turkey on the table, I’ve learned how to make the most of this significant American holiday, even while living far from my homeland and extended family.
You may not live overseas, but chances are you live interstate or in another city than your family… and yes, it can sting a little more over the holidays.
Here are a few ways I’ve learned to make the most of Thanksgiving when far away from loved ones:
1. Create your own traditions.
For us this means moving Thanksgiving to Saturday when we can make a full day of it. It means pumping up the air-conditioning and watching Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving while sipping hot apple cider.
2. Adopt elements from “home”.
Choose one or two dishes (or traditions) from your familiar family celebrations and incorporate them into your new celebration.
3. Don’t try to duplicate how someone else “does” Thanksgiving.
Even while incorporating some familiar elements from home, determine that you get to open a new chapter and write it however you’d like. Instead of trying to make your holiday look exactly like “the good old days”, embrace that it’s now different and shape it to look like you and your family’s current reality.
4. Fill your house with family.
Maybe you don’t have cousins and brothers and grandpas around, but you likely have dear friends or neighbors that you can invite along. We invite different people to celebrate with us every year – sometimes they are other Americans, sometimes they are not. Often they are people in need of a “family” this time of year and it’s our privilege to stand in the gap and make them feel at home among ours. Having them at our table feasting alongside us enriches our celebration and helps us to remember that family comes in so many different forms.
5. Use technology to your advantage.
Set up a skype date with your loved ones back home. Record a video of the kids sharing one thing they’re thankful for about their grandparents. Call great-grandma. Post candid photos on instagram or facebook of your day and tag your family so they can follow along with your celebrations from afar (and ask them to do the same).
6. Remember to give thanks.
Share personal affirmations to one another around the table, recount favorite memories from the year, talk about another family member’s accomplishment that’s made you proud, give God glory for a breakthrough or development, a new skill or lesson learned, tell each other your favorite thing about being an American or about something good that America has contributed to the world, etc. There are a thousand ways to give thanks as a family, so find one that suits yours and give it time and focus! As you direct your gratitude toward the Lord, it’s very hard to stay focused on missing your family or what’s familiar. Gratitude breeds joy, plain and simple. Gratitude also breeds gratitude… which breeds more joy. (Oh, it’s a good cycle, isn’t it?!)
7. Look on the bright side.
Instead of focusing on what you’re missing, find the silver lining. I will not miss scraping ice off my car windows and I will not miss the temptation to get up at 5:00am and storm Target with a million other sleep-deprived moms. Your bright side might look a little different to mine, but you have one too, no doubt. (Find it!)
Happy Thanksgiving, mamas. I pray yours is filled with the riches of knowing and appreciating the abundant goodness of God in your life, whether you find yourself surrounded by aunties or celebrating far away.
Friends, will you be at “home” with family this Thanksgiving? Or will you be celebrating far away? What do you most look forward to about gathering to give thanks on this special day?