This year will be the first time I have not hosted Thanksgiving at my home since 1974. My daughter, who was born in November of 1973, will be hosting this year, and that feels both great and a bit strange. In fact, the year of my daughter's birth was the last time I was not in charge of Thanksgiving. Because it was her birthday, it became my family holiday.
Prior to assuming responsibility for hosting Thanksgiving, I have vague memories of growing up celebrating the holiday with my siblings, parents, and grandparents. Of course the menu included turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. The most distinctive item on the table, however, was the sliced jelled cranberry with strange grooves on the side. My father loved this delicacy, but I hated the looks of it. It was only as an adult that I learned this version of cranberry sauce came straight from the can, and that cranberries could actually be tasty if prepared differently.
The Thanksgiving of my daughter's birth definitely gave new meaning to this holiday for me. My parents spent the day with my young son, my husband, and me staring at my belly. I was "overdue" and not in a great mood. I have no memory of what we did to celebrate that Thanksgiving, but I banished my parents by the end of the weekend. Thanksgiving was early that year, November 22. They left November 25, and my daughter was born November 26. Yes, I was a jerk. They literally turned around and came back from Michigan to care for my two-year-old.
After that year, Thanksgiving was all mine, and for 41 years, I hosted it in various evolving iterations. My husband's ever-expanding family lived in town, so they always came. My parents came every year as well. For a time, my siblings and eventually their wives drove in from Michigan. At some point, they had kids and splintered off to celebrate with their own families at home. Still, the numbers grew and grew.
Life happened. Babies were born, nieces and nephews married, and Thanksgiving had become (as Donald Trump would say) HUGE. I was squeezing three tables into my home to accommodate up to 40 guests. I knew my relationship with Thanksgiving was in trouble. It was time for family counseling, as a divorce from this holiday was inevitable. My kids were now married and having kids. It was just too much.
So Thanksgiving evolved once again. My parents died. My husband's family broke into smaller units to celebrate, and this year it's just two of my kids, their spouses, six of my grandkids, my husband and me. That's a very manageable 12.
I think my recent 70th birthday prompted my daughters to take Thanksgiving off my plate. That's a good thing after so many years, right? So why am I waxing nostalgic about letting go of this holiday? I guess it's just another generational shift, and that makes me feel old.
But wait. I promised to make part of the meal. Can't expect my vegetarian daughter to cook a turkey, and can't have a proper Thanksgiving without one. The turkey needs to be stuffed, so I get to make that as well. And we must have my home-baked pumpkin pie in addition to a birthday cake for my daughter, and cupcakes for my three-year-old grandson. That should keep me busy for a while.
Yes, I am still needed for this holiday. I can start worrying now about where to find the best turkey or when to start my pies. Because Thanksgiving actually falls on my daughter's birthday this year, I can think of ways to make it festive for her. But I won't miss setting the table or all of the clean up that follows dinner. And the kids can make a huge mess in her house, not mine.
Traditions evolve, and that's not always a bad thing. I'm ready to pass the drumstick to the next generation and assume my new status as family matriarch. Happy Thanksgiving.