GratiTuesday: Flexgiving

I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit that I miss my family’s traditional Thanksgiving celebrations. Unlike Hollywood’s version of dysfunctional families gathering for the annual angst-fest, our small family didn’t do drama or have arguments about grievances from long-ago. We all got along and enjoyed each other’s company.

My grandfather carving the turkey in 1964.

My mother and father hosted our family’s Thanksgiving dinners until it became too much of a burden for age-related reasons. At that point, my brother and his wife, who live locally, took over the duties and then raised the meal up a notch by introducing smoked turkey and prime rib to the menu. They also introduced a few of their friends to the mix and Thanksgiving became a bit livelier but still enjoyable and drama-free. My other brother and his family usually were able to make it down from northern California to join in the festivities.

Things started to change after my parents passed away. Like many families, they were the glue that held everything together and, once they were gone, my brothers and I slowly started to develop separate holiday traditions of our own. There were no discussions or explanations, we just began to move in different directions. I think we all understood that, even though we loved each other, our lives had diverged, and we had different paths we wanted to take around the holidays. The local brother and his wife have gotten very involved with their church and spend Thanksgiving with friends they have met there. My other brother and his wife usually spend the long weekend at a seaside hotel not too far from where they live.

Over the past several years, my husband and I have explored different ways to celebrate Thanksgiving. We’ve been invited to the homes of friends and we’ve invited friends to ours. We’ve traveled to be with relatives and we’ve stayed home and dined quietly on our own. Each version of a Thanksgiving celebration – big, small, home, away – has pluses and minuses but we’ve enjoyed them all.

This year, we have invited a couple of friends to join us for Thanksgiving dinner at our home. We’ll have the traditional offerings and are looking forward to a pleasant evening of good food and great conversation. Maybe next year we will find ourselves out of town – or even out of the country. But, no matter how we decide to spend the holiday each year, I am grateful for my warm memories of past celebrations, and for the flexibility to build new ones in a variety of shapes and sizes.

79 thoughts on “GratiTuesday: Flexgiving”

  1. Sounds so similar to my family. I connect with my brother for the holiday but the rest of the family is off in different places. Love the picture. The wallpaper took me back to my childhood home. There was wallpaper everywhere.

    1. I think many of us have scattered (although I’m pretty much in the same place 🙂 ). Also, with no young children around, it seems less important to gather together as a family. Funny about the wallpaper… I remember it being just about everywhere too!

  2. What a beautiful, heartfelt post, Janis. You are so fortunate that your family holidays have been drama-free. I suspect that’s more unusual than we might think or wish were the case. It’s wonderful that you have such warm memories. I appreciate you sharing them.

    1. I used to think that all families were like ours, but as I got older, I discovered that they come in all flavors. I imagine it will be especially contentious around quite a few dinner tables this year if politics becomes a topic of discussion.

    1. I feel so lucky to have those memories of past Thanksgivings. I’m looking forward to cooking tomorrow and spending time with our friends in the evening. I’m also looking forward to making turkey soup out of the carcass… just like my mother did every year! Comfort food for sure.

  3. That really hits a nerve- how the last generation held everyone together. In my generation we don’t see or talk to each other. No reason other than we’re all over the place. Maybe it was the immigrant or first generation mentality, maybe it was having to deal with the depression/WW1/WW2/holocaust. Not sure however I hear the same from many people. Now we chose our friends instead of relatives. It’s interesting…

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    1. Lovely post. I think a big part is having a grateful attitude, and being wide open to appreciating and focusing on what we do have, rather than dwelling on anything we don’t have, which you do so positively EVERY Tuesday. Happy Thanksgiving and every day, to you and yours.

      1. Sometimes I feel a bit down around the holidays, but then I remind myself that it’s because I have such great memories of holidays past. I have much to be grateful for and am looking forward to enjoying having dinner with friends. Happy Thanksgiving to you also!

    2. I’ve been hearing the expression “family of choice” quite a bit lately. I think more and more of us are doing that as we get older and more scattered. We are feeling more free to surround ourselves with people who feed our soul, not feel obligated to put up with someone just because we are related to them.

  4. A couple of years ago I posted a photo of my grandfather carving the turkey years and years ago, and like you, my family holiday times elicit warm and happy memories. Everything changes as the generations pass, and we do need to adjust and find fresh ways to celebrate, but I can get very misty-eyed sometimes thinking back to even just a very few years ago when there were a few more loved ones around the table. I hope you have lovely Thanksgiving.

    1. I wonder how many of us have old photos like that? When I found the picture in the family album, I was instantly taken back to the kitchen of my childhood. My mother and grandmother were probably busy putting the other food on the dining room table when my father stopped to snap a photo of my grandfather. Those time are long gone but the memories are clear. I hope that you have a fabulous Thanksgiving too.

  5. I’m glad that you realize what joy you as a family had. And how wonderful that you still have some siblings around with which to share those memories, even if you are miles apart on Thanksgiving. Great photo, so emblematic of the year.

  6. Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving. Your gratitude postings always make me rethink my own life. This year is a big change for our Thanksgiving traditions, for a number of reasons. I’m not hosting a big family dinner for first time in 16 years. And helping create the family dinner before that forever. Your positive attitude on the flexibility of Thanksgiving Day was just what I needed to embrace the change. I’m going to enjoy my no-cooking day & watch the Macy’s parade, the dog show, and maybe some football. And express real appreciation for my dinner at friend’s house – she said to just bring wine. And Tupperware for leftovers…a true friend!

    1. It sounds like you will have a nice, relaxing day! Looking back on all the ways we’ve spent Thanksgiving since my parents passed away, eating alone (just the two of us) was the least satisfying. No fuss, no muss, but it’s so much better to be with other people. Enjoy your day and dinner with your friends… and leftovers!

  7. Parents are the glue that hold families together. We had many years of delicious and happy meals in a very small house and spotless garage where tables were set up to accommodate the 9 adult children and their families. Love and laughter all around. Those days are long gone, but the memories linger like a warm shawl this time of year. Hope you have a lovely day and thank you for sharing your memories. 🙂

  8. What a sweet post. I too have such fond memories of Thanksgiving at my Grandparents house. I would spend the night the night before and help my Grandma cook and set the tables. I miss those days of simplicity and just being together.

  9. You know, I think we often feel guilty when siblings branch off and create their own traditions, built around their own families, friends, and communities. But really, that seems quite logical. Sometimes aunts and uncles and cousins are part of the traditional old family celebrations, but just as often those celebrations centered around parents, grandparents and children. It’s wonderful to be able to mix it up as you and your hubby do. I, too, have celebrated in a host of different styles, starting with hosting for “strays”, then hosting for husband’s family, then being invited to a “strays” dinner, and sometimes just doing it on my own, which I like just fine, also. May your dinner be a wonderful success.

    1. You are correct about the guilt… I sometimes think about how our parents would feel knowing that we no longer get together. On the other hand, I’m sure they’d be happy to know that we are happy and healthy and still maintain a good relationship with each other. I’m looking forward to cooking with my husband tomorrow and sitting down to a good (fingers crossed… I don’t make Thanksgiving dinner all that often) meal with friends. I hope you have a great Thanksgiving too.

  10. I loved this post! Probably because I feel the same way: I loved the Thanksgivings I had growing up, but over the years our traditions have changed as the older generations were no longer there. Now we have a good time with my own kids and their spouses, and honestly, my husband would be thrilled to go on a trip on Thanksgiving weekend and skip it entirely. I think the key, as you say, is flexibility. And remembering to enjoy ourselves no matter how we celebrate!

    1. I think having kids helps keep things together longer (that is until they have their own families and want to start their own traditions). We no longer have any young kids in our family. I think my husband would agree with yours… “let’s just get away and enjoy a stress-free trip” (as long as he still gets to enjoy pumpkin pie).

  11. This post touched me heart and describes what I’m experiencing with my young adult children at this time. I’m sad that my daughter will be spending the holiday on the other side of the country this year and won’t be eating my sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top.

  12. We moved far away from my home state, so I can relate to not having family around. We too, have run the gamut from quiet, to parties with friends, to traveling to a relative. Nothing compares to the family Thanksgivings when I was a child. But that’s okay, I will always have the memories. This year we are going for a hike!

  13. Sounds so much like all my early Thanksgivings. Mom and Dad hosting five kids and later, our spouses. Eventually my older brother and his wife took over the hosting. The event got bigger and bigger as spouses, nieces, and nephews were added. Eventually some of us (me, in particular) moved out of state. But those early Thanksgivings were the best! And lucky us, we all got along.

  14. I love that picture of your grandfather. So many things to look at, but especially for me the wall paper. Put up in the fifties, no doubt, and WONDERFUL. Thank you for sharing that.

    My family’s Thanksgiving history is very similar to yours. My parents were that glue. After they passed, it was mostly the distance but also differences in personal comfort zones for the holidays that allowed for all of us to go our own way. Any holiday is what you personally make it, though.

    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, Janice! – Marty

  15. That’s a great photo of your grandfather and the turkey! Beautiful memories. Being flexible is such a good trait to have. Mark and I are honored to be this year’s Thanksgiving company and very much look forward to it. We are thankful to have amazing friends in San Diego who we get to spend Thanksgiving with! 🙂

  16. I’ve cooked nearly every holiday dinner since I moved into my home in 1972. I am wondering how many more years I can continue to do it. I just wish my oldest son would come home at holiday time, but the weather was a factor in so many prior trips he has given up.

    1. You are such a great cook that I imagine you have plenty of people who rely on you to produce a masterpiece each year. Maybe you could just cut back (and cut yourself some slack) so it’s not such a production. I’m sorry that your son couldn’t join you, but I understand not wanting to get stuck somewhere because of the weather.

  17. I think that perhaps our warm loving memories of our family Thanksgivings when we were young will always remain the ‘best’ holidays. But now I watch my daughter continue the traditions that she grew up with, and I watch my grandchildren savor it all, and I feel that my parents did a great job, beginning traditions that will flow through each generation.
    That said, when my guy and I moved away for a few years and couldn’t attend family Thanksgivings, we enjoyed the meal with friends, who felt just like family too. xo

    1. It must be soul-satisfying to see the family traditions passed down through you to the younger generations. But, when we can’t be with family, friends are wonderful to be with (and, in the case of some families, better company 🙂 ). The key is to spend time with those we value and love.

  18. I have similar feelings about Thanksgiving, Janis. I remember the traditional dinner at my grandparents’ home. My grandmother was queen of the kitchen, and my grandfather kept us entertained in the other room while the smells filled the house and our appetites grew. It wasn’t the same after she passed. We’ve had several memorable Thanksgiving dinners since then, but not solid tradition that was. I’m a little sad that my children don’t have that. We’re still holding on to Christmas though–Christmas Eve at my mother’s house with my siblings and their children and even their grandchildren, and then Christmas day at our house!

    1. My mother was like your grandmother at Thanksgiving… she preferred to do most of the preparation on her own (we had a small kitchen so that could have been why) so my brothers and I were kept out of the kitchen. I was into my 40s before I cooked my first turkey 🙂 It sounds like you have a terrific Christmas celebration… it’s so nice when there are young children around to add to the magic.

  19. Hope your Thanksgiving was wonderful, Janis! It has been years since we’ve had Thanksgiving at my house. We just got back from spending it with my dad up in Foresthill, with my brother and family who drove up from San Diego for the week. In alternate years we make the road trip the Oregon and Washington. We were joking the other day, about how my grandpa in Lemon Grove used to take us all to Sir George’s buffet for the holiday dinners when we were teens. Good memories !

  20. Hi Janis! And Happy Thanksgiving Weekend! I hope your celebration turned out to be as pleasant and happy as most of your memories. And I loved the photo with your grandfather wearing a tie to cut the turkey! Times have changed for sure (at least in my house!) I have great memories of celebrations with my mom and dad but like you, I am now free to make lots of different choices. Most of the time I avoid the “chores” involved and just get to enjoy the holiday. ~Kathy

    1. Hi Kathy! We had a wonderful celebration! Small, but lively and great conversation. Most of the pictures I have of my grandfather show him in a tie. My grandmother ALWAYS wore a dress. Times certainly have changed (thank goodness)! Good for you for avoiding chores… more time to enjoy.

  21. Janis, this is exactly what has happened with hubs and me! Both of our parents have passed away, and we are now in the initial years of deciding what we want our Thanksgiving to look like. And because we have no children, the possibilities are wide open. For a couple years, we’ve invited my sister and BIL to our home, along with a couple of friends. Now we’re wondering if traveling might be fun. We’re keeping our options open. The main idea is to remember to be grateful! ~ Lynn

    1. It’s kind of fun to have a world of opportunities open up now that we are no longer part of a traditional family celebration. This year we had a small gathering… next year, who knows? I am truly grateful for so much – including a husband who is open to exploring new ways to celebrate the holidays.

  22. Janis, we have done our best to replicate the tradition. Inviting friends makes it even more special, as you are opening up your family. Please enjoy the rest of your season. Keith

  23. Over the years, like you Janis, we’ve enjoyed variations of Thanksgiving with family, family and friends, friends, and a couple of times in foreign countries, just the two of us. However we choose to spend the day, I love the moment where we pause to say what we’re most thankful for. Many times the things we’re grateful for are small, everyday things but the act of naming them makes us aware of how truly fortunate we are. Anita

  24. Hi Janis, I hope you and your husband had a wonderful Thanksgiving this year with your friends. This year, we drove about 5 hours north of Reno to central Oregon, where my sister-in-law’s daughter has a restaurant. I know it was a lot of work for her, but she fed about 60 of us without breaking a sweat. Having her in the family is yet another reason to be thankful.

  25. The first time that Rob and I celebrated a Thanksgiving without family nearby to share it with, we decided to go camping to the Rockies. We went in our truck and camper. On the holiday, we went for a hike, then came back to the camper and I made Cornish game hens with cranberry stuffing in the camper’s oven. You know how camping food always tastes better? Thanksgiving camping food is the best!

    Jude

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