Thankful for Family at the Holiday

By Shelley Murphy

Life’s a Beach By Shelley Murphy

As Thanksgiving approaches, I’m remembering the many different holiday tables my family has gathered around over the years.

I prepare our festive table by decorating it with my boys’ timeless Pilgrim artwork and my grandmother’s treasured turkey china.

As much as I enjoy spending laborious hours in the kitchen on Thanksgiving and then watching the feast gobbled in minutes, I also enjoy taking advantage of the calendar and traveling to tropical destinations.

When my boys were elementary- and middle-school students, we started stretching their holiday break and savoring week-long vacations. During our family trips, we celebrated a hybrid of the traditional hallmarks of Thanksgiving Day: family, football and food.

We’ve never skipped Thanksgiving, but I do admit to tweaking its traditions, as it’s the company I crave—not the casseroles.

When my older son started high school, our family stopped playing hooky in November. Try as I might, I couldn’t sneak a trip past the college application process. Instead of spending a relaxing week soaking up the sun, my sons spent memorable Thanksgiving breaks on college application websites, testing the limits of my credit card and their patience.

When my firstborn left the nest for college, we continued observing the holiday at home and gathering around our dining room table. Class assignments and collegiate commitments, coupled with a two-day break, resulted in another family travel ban.

With both of my kids in college, I’d spend most of November counting down the days until my sons’ arrival home. The days leading up to their homecomings, I’d cook their favorite foods and clean their untouched bedrooms.

My countdown concluded when they’d walk through the door bringing with them laughter, life and, of course, laundry into our house.

Often, Thanksgiving marks a freshman’s first homecoming since moving from their high school bedroom to a college dorm room. Whether parents see a sublime or subtle shift in lexicon or lifestyle, most notice a difference in their returning freshman.

Parents hoping their students stay snuggled in the nest at night are surprised to learn that countless college kids celebrate Thanksgiving eve more than the day. The pseudo-collegiate holiday tradition is nicknamed “Drinksgiving”; the term dates back to 2004 but rose in popularity around 2012.

Drinksgiving occurs on Thanksgiving eve and rivals both St. Patrick’s Day and New Year’s Eve. My boys were quick to adopt the collegiate tradition that reunites former high school classmates who return to their hometowns for the holiday break.

Today, with one son living at home and my other son living in the Bay Area, travel isn’t an option; instead, it’s a necessity. We’ll be among the predicted 55 million Pilgrims traveling 50 miles or more to share a Thanksgiving table.

In a few days, we’ll join family friends at our destination and commemorate the holiday together. Between us, we share four sons who are proud graduates of the same university. Tweaking tradition, again, we’ll attend their alma mater’s basketball, not football, game.

This pilgrimage is a first for me, I’ve sat around many holiday tables, but never a blackjack table on Thanksgiving Day. Instead of rising on Thanksgiving morning and preparing a smoked turkey, I’ll be playing cards in a smoky casino.

Next week, I won’t be cooking our traditional feast featuring my husband’s favorite green bean casserole and my son’s pumpkin dessert squares, but I will be making memories with my family.

I’m grateful for our Thanksgiving gatherings at home. I embrace my reign as host and enjoy our home being the holiday hub; but families evolve, and so do our traditions.

Whether I am traveling to them or with them, if my family is together for the holiday, I am thankful.

At Thanksgiving, it’s not where the table is or what’s on the table, it’s who is at your table and what is in your heart.

Shelley Murphy has lived in San Clemente with her husband for the past 21 years, where she raised her two sons. She’s a freelance writer and has been a contributor to the San Clemente Times since 2006.

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