Ahhh yes. It’s started. The trees are out and decorated in stores, Elf: The Musical is being advertised in my city, and we’ve just purchased our tickets to see The Nutcracker. It won’t be long before Christmas music is on the radio, and the real reason I’m peeved about the solid red Starbucks cups is that it’s November. Didn’t they have a zillion cute fall cups just a month ago? What the heck Starbucks??? I’m not ready for Christmas yet!!! Aside from checking off every item on the list of things all basic white girls do during the fall, the truth is, I’m excitedly gearing up for Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is my all-time favorite holiday. More than Christmas or Easter, and more than my birthday (although I bet you already guessed that). Don’t get me wrong- I love the entire Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year’s collective, but my ultimate enjoyment always comes from Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving to me is absolutely vital in setting the tone for the Christmas season, and ultimately for preparing my heart for the New Year. I have such sweet memories of Thanksgiving growing up. My family was all close, and we spent Thanksgiving together, with the traditional big meal, and decorated our Christmas tree together afterward. My father would say the prayer before dinner, and he’d ask us to go around the table and name the things we were thankful for in the last year. Hokey? Eh, probably. But we can all use a little hokey from time to time. There were years where I didn’t feel very thankful for anything- I did my fair share of self-pitying- and years when all I wanted to do was focus on getting past the holidays. But those moments in front of family, having to put words to something for which I was thankful actually gave me enough pause to realize, “there is plenty in my life to be thankful for.”
Now, I do things a little differently. I’m a homebody. I loooooove being at home. We’ve moved a good bit with my job, and my first priority in every place was to set up “home” and have a safe haven for our family. I value a peaceful home for us above all else, and I find it easier to start a peaceful day from a peaceful home. And so it is with Thanksgiving.
I’ve taken to surrounding us all with things in our home that have meaning. Don’t take that to mean I’m over here hoarding newspapers and magazines and every piece of art my kids have ever created- I’m definitely NOT the sentimental type when it comes to stuff. I simply mean that the stuff we do keep around is useful stuff, that also serves to remind us of something more important. For instance, our dinner table features a hand-painted deacon’s bench, where my in-laws sat together for the family meals my husband enjoyed in his childhood. The buffet in my dining room (recently refurbished by yours truly) belonged to my parents in the early days of their marriage. My mother’s piano sits beside it. An old dresser from my childhood holds table linens and gift wrapping supplies- just as it did when I was growing up. And every time I see it, I remember wrapping gifts with my mother and sister. All these things remind me that I’m thankful for family. When I’m surrounded by noisy children who run around hitting each other and wiping boogers on walls and eating non-food items, I can look at these pieces and remember that they’ve been through this before, when the hitter, booger-wiper, and non-food eater was me or my husband. And I’m thankful for parents who loved us through those times, and saved those things for days like today, when we have a family of our own.
In my living room are comfy couches and a cushy rug, not always the most stylish, but where our memories of family game nights and bedtime stories have been made. On our shelves are a few limited knick-knacks, including a beautiful handmade copper salt-cellar from Sarajevo, given to me by a sweet hard-working manager who worked for me. When we met, she said, “Growing up in communist country, I would never be anything- I had no money for bribes and no skills the government could use. But America is such beautiful country. I can be anything I want here.” I’m reminded of her grateful heart and all she overcame, and I’m thankful for our country, and the potential we have as its citizens. Next to that salt-cellar sits a compass, given to me by one of my dearest friends, to remind me to live a life with intentional direction, to always know where my north is. And in seeing it, I’m thankful for friends, the accountability to keep each other on the right track, and for direction.
When people ask us how we live with 4 children in a townhouse in the city, I’m thankful for my children, and for their love for one another, and the way they can share bedrooms and be both siblings and best friends. If I need a reminder, I need only stand outside their doors at bedtime or in the morning, when they lay in bed quietly chatting amongst themselves. (And yes, sometimes it sounds like an elephant gymnastics troop preparing for a match in there- for the sake of this post, imagine the former vs. the latter.) I’m thankful for my husband’s sacrifice to drive long hours and live in smaller quarters, so that one of us can stay home, and we can invest ourselves in our children’s upbringing. I’m thankful for the ability to homeschool, and a peaceful environment that lets us create and explore and ask questions and ignite curiosity as we teach our children each day.
The world is moving so fast outside- I hear all the trucks and deliveries from my porch, and see the Amazon boxes rolling in for my neighbors, and smell the cinnamon-spice candles burning in stores, and can almost taste the tension as people start to get short with one another in parking lots and in lines at the grocery store. Friends- we are all in it. It’s exhausting, it’s fun, it’s stressful, it’s exciting. It’s life. This holiday season, beginning right now with preparation for Thanksgiving, we are starting a new family tradition. Instead of racing to get to what’s next and crossing the days anxiously off our calendars, we’re going to experience life together. We’re not going Christmas shopping- this first-world family doesn’t need anything- we’re going to do things together. We’ll bake goodies, have meals together, watch our favorite holiday movies, read some old stories and some new ones, go to some shows, participate in volunteer events, and make memories together. Because we live in a time and a place where we have the freedom to live the life we make, and I am so very thankful for it.