Sometimes it takes being removed from a situation to truly appreciate what you had.
I grew up in the home where the extended Wright Family and company came for their Thanksgiving Feast. I have fond memories of seeing my dad and mom locating all the Table leafs to extend our dining room Table for guests. I still smile thinking about my grandma and grandpa who would show up about 3 hours early and sit in “their spot” until the food was ready.
I distinctly remember one year in high school taking advantage of being out of school for the week by working extra late at Taco Bell. I came home the night before Thanksgiving around 2 am to find my mom covered in flour, the radio was on, the turkey was soaking, and food and baked goods were spread out all over the place. I jumped in to help her finish the last-minute stuff so she could finally go to bed, and get ready for the big day.
It was special, but I just didn’t know how special.
Then one year, I went away for college where I didn’t live at home anymore and I was too far to come home on the weekends. So Thanksgiving was the first time I’d seen my family since I had left home back in August. And everyone came to my parent’s house so I got to see my aunts, uncles, cousins, grandma, and grandpa. And there were a few that were not ‘Wrights’, but they were welcomed in our home and at our Table and because of this, they formed relationships.
And I realised how thankful I was to have parents who opened their home to extended family on this day each year.
Then I got married and moved even further away. Now we had to split Thanksgiving and Christmas between the two families—my family got Christmas and her family got Thanksgiving.
There was a lot of differences between my family and her family. These differences were seen in what Thanksgiving Day meant and looked like.
For starters, the Parks Family is a sports-crazy family, and I quickly learned and appreciated a new aspect of Thanksgiving: Football!
But I was the new guy sitting at the Table. And I’m sure in the early days that changed the dynamics of their traditions. I was thankful for the way they welcomed me. Looking back, I’m sure it wasn’t easy.
But then things really got interesting for my family. Four years ago, we moved across the Atlantic Ocean, to another continent, and to another country.
And since Thanksgiving happens to be an American holiday with origins from the pilgrims leaving the UK, they don’t really see a need to celebrate it here in the UK. So whilst stores in America are exploding with pumpkin pies, turkeys, and potatoes, shops here in the UK are carrying on as normal. And whilst all the American kids are out of school for the week, our two kids go off to school as an ordinary Thursday morning here in the UK.
But this didn’t stop us from celebrating.
The first year, we took our daughter out of school and we celebrated in our own way and we started our own traditions.
The second year, we introduced some of our friends here to the holiday.
This caused us to rethink the holiday.
Back in America, we look back at the British coming across the ocean and making a new home in America. And we give thanks for the locals who welcomed them and showed them how to live in their new world. And we are thankful for all that God has given us.
Now that we live in in the UK, we remember how God took care of the details of moving our lives the other way—across the ocean to Britain. We give thanks for the locals (our friends here) who have welcomed us and showed us how to live in this “new world”. And we are thankful for all that God has given us.
But when Thanksgiving came around the third year, it had been a very hard year for our family. We had lost our baby boy at the beginning of that year and had been working through a grieving process. And as we looked back at our year, we were overwhelmed with gratefulness for our friends and our church community.
And this led us to have a crazy thought: Let’s invite them ALL to our house for Thanksgiving!!
There’s something about learning and appreciating another culture—we were certainly trying to do this for them as we lived here and sought out to understand their culture. We are Americans, they know that Thanksgiving is a big deal to us, but what we really wanted them to know was how grateful we were for them.
Many of them had walked through this year with us in very practical ways and many of them had prayed for us continually. If there was a reason to celebrate Thanksgiving this year, it was out of our gratefulness for these Brits who had embraced us, cried with us, and prayed for us.
Now comes the logistics of what we wanted to do.
Our home is not typical, even for the Welsh. But it’s also not massive. We have a dining room table that we can squeeze 8 to 10 people around. We have a bit of extra space in the kitchen where we often set up a kids table when we have bigger families over for dinner. We have narrow hallways and we have a long, but narrow living room.
And when we made a list of people we wanted to invite, the grand total was 70!
How do we celebrate Thanksgiving with the possibility of 70 people in our home?
We came up with the idea that it would have to be a Thanksgiving Open House—food served from 5 to 9. With this feature, not everyone would be there at the same time.
We wanted to stay true to food that would normally be served at a typical American Thanksgiving Feast, but we would need food that was easy to eat whether they were at a Table, sitting on the couch, or standing in the kitchen. So my wife came up with some very fun twists to all the classics.
As the day arrived, it was fun, exciting, and scary!
It was fun to think of our house full of friends and it was exciting to introduce them to the celebration of Thanksgiving. But it was scary because we didn’t know who was actually going to come, when they were going to come, if we were going to have enough food, how to keep it all warm, and where they would all sit (or stand!).
We wanted this to be a blessing and a gift to our friends, and we prayed that God would work out all the details.
And he did!
That evening, we had 44 people come into our home! Some came early and left, others came late and stayed late, and many hung out all evening long.
We had older women sit at our table for an hour chatting with each other over a cup of coffee after their meal,
we had kids pulling out the train set and the Legos and playing together creatively in our kid’s room,
we had teenagers playing card games in our living room,
and mums and dads laughing and eating together in our kitchen.
My wife had made a card to briefly explain the purpose of Thanksgiving, but even more so, the reason for the evening’s celebration. In her words, “It has been a year of heartache and probably the hardest year we have ever went through. Throughout this year, God has consistently reminded us that He is good and He loves us. In the midst of the pain, we have shared some wonderful memories with all of you. Thank you for your love and support for our family.”
Across our kitchen counter was my wife’s Art in crockpots and on plates: turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce and brie, mash potato quiche, stuffing balls, crescent rolls twisted around bacon, a cranberry dip, fresh veggies, and sugar cookies with a pumpkin pie icing.
We smiled because every item (excluding the sweets) had bacon in it!
We also cleared all the photos on the front of our refrigerator, we handed out post it notes and sharpies and asked everyone to post something they were thankful for. By the end of the night, our refrigerator was full of post-it notes—even our guests had much to be thankful for!
I started by saying that it takes being removed from a situation to truly appreciate what you had. From college, to getting married, to moving out of the country, I have been removed many times from the days of Thanksgiving at my parents. Now I’m in a country where they don’t actually celebrate it, in a home where having a large gathering isn’t easy, during a time where feeling thankful could be difficult.
That evening, I don’t know that either me or my wife ever sat down, we definitely didn’t get a Table, and I’m not even sure if I ever had a plate! But when I went to bed that night, my heart was full and I had so much to be thankful for.
In just a matter of days, Americans will be taking a break from school, stores will be full of traditional thanksgiving food, several football players will be preparing for the game, many will be travelling, and others will be extending their Tables in preparation.
And not to mess with family traditions, but if you were removed from your situation like so many have been, you would realise that Thanksgiving is so much bigger than the food and family traditions.
There are people who are living in your community and are in your circle of influence who have been removed from what they once knew:
A young couple or college student who can’t afford to go “home” for Thanksgiving,
The older couple whose grown kids are starting their own family traditions this year,
The individual who has experienced a lot of loss in their life and will be “celebrating” alone,
The family who has lost their patriarch or matriarch of the family this year and feeling overwhelmed in more ways than one,
A family who is from another country and doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving,
Or even the family like us who was going to have an empty seat at the Table.
What we discovered last year was that the Thanksgiving Table is an opportunity to bring many different people together.
Interestingly, this is how families exist—this is why there are in-laws and several generations. Somewhere in the past, people came together, children were added, everyone grew and brought more people together.
That first Thanksgiving I joined the Parks family, I was just a fiancé. It’s fun to consider how that party of 7 back in 2006 could easily be a Table with 17 people if you count all the new additions and added generations that God has blessed this family with.
What if you opened your Thanksgiving Table this year to people who weren’t related by blood or marriage?
What if, in 10 years from now, your Thanksgiving Table has grown in size—not because everyone got married and had more kids—but because you and your family redefined what Thanksgiving is all about?
How would this change your kids’ attitudes and perspectives if they grow up in a home where Thanksgiving was a day (or even a weekend) where their parents reached out to others, invited them into their home, to sit at their Table, and to be treated like family?
As a Christian, I believe there will come a day where I will sit at a massive Table full of people who aren’t related to me but we all have one thing in common: The Father of the House welcomed us all to His Table. And together, we will have a Feast!
And I believe Thanksgiving is a wonderful opportunity built into the American culture to practise what has been done for us and what will be done for us.
If you’re not a Christian, please don’t disregard what you’ve just read. You don’t have to believe in God to welcome others to your Table and to redefine your traditions.
To those who live outside of the States, you don’t need a day set outside to welcome people to your Table.
Where I live in the UK, the end of September is known as Harvest Time and there are often Harvest Suppers and Harvest Services. Even without the holiday Thanksgiving, thankfulness is built into the culture during Autumn. If your culture doesn’t have something like this, make it a part of your family culture.
If you find yourself relating to one of the many groups I mentioned, please don’t wait for someone else to invite you to their Table. If you are emotionally and physically able, lead the way by reaching out to others and create a bond through your losses.
Whether you are a Christian or not, American or not, or experienced loss or not, the effects of your generosity and hospitality will extend deeply through your family as well as theirs and beyond.
Consider making changes this Thanksgiving. Please don’t wait for next year!
Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends and family around the world!
Photo Credits: #6 & 17 Hannah K,