Halloween was last Friday and a week later we still have leftover candy from the trick or treaters. Prior to last year, I hadn’t participated in trick or treating in at least fifteen or sixteen years. I made the decision to turn off all of the lights except the one in the back bedroom and watch movies with my daughter many years ago. My daughter was three, I was pregnant with my son, and we were living in a new and unfamiliar city. My husband’s work schedule was brutal and kept him away from home until late at night. Since he would not be home Halloween night, I decided it was not safe for a woman late in her pregnancy with a three year old to open her door at night for strangers dressed in costumes. I thought I might look silly explaining how an unrecognizable person in a mask spooked me or victimized me. Over the years, we developed our own traditions for Halloween. The kids and I would go out for dinner and then to a movie. Sometimes we participated in local harvest parties where they would play games and eat treats. I also had neighbors who made special goodie bags for my kids because they knew we didn’t trick or treat. Now, the kids shake their heads at me because the dog has costumes and I buy candy to hand out to trick or treaters who stop by our house. I am thankful that my kids enjoyed the tradition we started and at least acted like they understood my thought process. Well, at least I don’t think my approach to Halloween eternally scarred our kids.
Immediately after closing the door to Halloween and the kids in costumes, we woke up planning for Thanksgiving. Oh my gosh! It seems that the pressure to plan and create special environments for our friends and family is at an all time high from the end of October through February 14th. The holiday season can be brutal emotionally, financially, and socially. When I think about the holiday season during my childhood and even my adult years, I generally remember the food and the experiences I had with my friends and family.
Recently, I was talking to a friend about growing up in Montgomery, Alabama, also known as “The Gump.” In The Gump, Thanksgiving included getting up early for the Turkey Day Parade and watching my brother marching with the Alabama State University Marching Hornets. I was about four years old and my brother was a drum major. The band was so large that the crowd had to take steps back so the band could fit through the parade route. My brother would wink at me as he passed me on the street. I would blush and smile and hold my head up higher hoping that everyone witnessed him showing the world how special I was to him. We would go home, eat a traditional Thanksgiving dinner complete with turkey, cornbread dressing, cranberry sauce, collard greens, candied yams, sweet potato pie, pound cake, and sweet tea. Thank goodness for Mama’s cooking!
It was years later that I realized the sacrifice and love that went into preparing Thanksgiving dinner. My parents came from families of good cooks where food was the common denominator at all family gatherings. As a result, holiday meals were designed to create an atmosphere that would fill our needs for warmth, fun, and physical nourishment. Now that I am many miles away from my family, my father is deceased, and my mother is in a nursing home unable to communicate with me, those well-crafted, special moments we had back in the day are etched in my memory and in my heart forever. I am thankful that the experiences that blessed me then are still blessing me today. I am thankful for the lessons my parents taught me about simplicity, hospitality, and family.
I work each holiday season to remind myself that it’s really not about the stuff, but rather the experience. Since we can’t go to the Turkey Day Classic every year, we look forward to spending the day eating our traditional dinner, watching football, and napping. I am thankful that life often affords us an opportunity to evolve and create new traditions and experiences that can be as rewarding as those no longer available to us.
Each holiday season brings on memories of my mom and dad and other family members and friends who are far away. I work hard not to allow the thought of missing them to consume my being. Whenever those thoughts linger, I start to have a thanksgiving rally in my head. I start to say how thankful I am for parents who loved me and wanted the best for me. I express my thankfulness for my brother who loves me and supports me. I celebrate my thankfulness for my husband and my kids who look forward to sharing Thanksgiving dinner with me. I am thankful that my family enjoys the food I cook. I focus on my family and friends who find humor in my sarcasm and quick wit.
I have to transform every negative thought during the holiday season into a positive reason to give thanks. This takes some practice. So, let the rehearsal begin:
When the person cuts in front of me in the line at the grocery store, I will be thankful that I have a reason to be standing in line and money to pay for my groceries.
When my kids are home for holidays and complaining about the food choices or the lack of food, I will be thankful that I know where they are and that they have the ability to talk.
When I have to pick up socks and shoes from the family room, I will be thankful that my kids came home the night before.
I must make staying in the thankful zone every day my focus. I encourage my readers to speak words of Thanksgiving and to encourage others to do the same. Hey, I hope you feel thankful and that you stay in the thankful zone throughout the holiday season. Don’t let the holiday season overwhelm you and suck you into the great abyss of chaos, negativity, and needless spending. Instead, focus on being thankful for some past experiences and memories. If you say you don’t have any, make it your business to create some this year and be thankful for the life and breath you have to accomplish that feat.