Why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday

Thanksgiving, which is held the fourth Thursday of each November, is my favorite holiday; the one I missed most while I was living abroad in the United Kingdom. I describe Thanksgiving (to my non-American friends) as Christmas, without the presents.  Growing up, my mom always hosted Thanksgiving. She would spend all morning cooking and several days before doing all the prep work. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins arrived around noon, and the chaos began. There were usually 15 of us crowded around a couple of tables, stuffing our faces until we were too full to move.

As everyone in my generation has now entered their 30’s, gotten married, and had babies, we have each slowly taken over hosting the holidays that our parents traditionally had. I have happily taken over Thanksgiving. Some things remain the same (the chaos), some rituals have changed (everyone brings something), and we are starting new traditions (a memory tablecloth).

Here’s what makes Thanksgiving special to me.


Photo credit: vxla via VisualHunt / CC BY

The smells

When I was young, I would wake up about 8:00am to the smell of the turkey already cooking away in the kitchen. Now, my kids will wake me up at 7:00am, and I’ll be frantically trying to find the turkey roasting pan at 8:00am, wondering how long it will be until my mom arrives to help out. I still love the smells, I just have to wait a little longer for them these days. With 23 adults and 9 kids expected to celebrate with us this year, there’s no way that I’m taking on all that cooking! Nope, I’ll do the meat and sweet potatoes, and everyone else will bring something. Dinner will include the traditional turkey, stuffing, potatoes, as well as cauliflower cheese, Yorkshire pudding and bacon wrapped sausages. Oh yeah, and mac and cheese for the kids of course…When we finally sit down to eat, the smells are amazing!


Photo credit: Ed Yourdon via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

The sounds

When I was little my first priority used to be to turn on the TV to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. (Ok, I’ll admit, this is still my first priority, although so far, my own kids have been less than impressed). It’s a close tie for me…Is it the smell of a simmering thanksgiving dinner that sets the atmosphere, or the Macy’s Parade which is always on in the background?

The parade was started in 1924, by Macy’s department store and takes place in New York at 9:00am (Eastern Time) each year. It’s been televised since the 70’s and includes giant balloons, university marching bands, Broadway performances and more. It’s a huge affair, ending with the arrival of Santa Claus, to officially start the Christmas season. (It’s probably for this reason, I can’t bear to do any Christmas prep until after thanksgiving). If it’s your first time in the US for Thanksgiving, you must watch the parade even if only for a few minutes, although it goes on for several hours, and can be quite addictive.

There’s other sounds too – after the parade there seems to be an endless stream of football games to watch. My grandad has typically controlled the remote during these games – and as the years pass, the volume gets louder and louder, and inevitably he falls asleep about 10 minutes into the game, so then we get to listen to snoring too! Add that to the 9 crazy kids and crying babies, and maybe I should hand out earplugs at the front door?


The people

Numbers have ebbed and flowed over the years. Boyfriends and girlfriends have come and gone. Some family has moved away. In recent years however the numbers have steadily increased. Husbands and wives have been included, in-laws and out-laws, and of course the kids – oh so many kids! But the ‘family’ included has changed too…

Since I was about 15, I have been known for adopting stray ‘foreigners’. After my family hosted a couple of students from Japan one year, I was addicted. I was inspired by their bravery, to travel abroad alone at such a young age. I was fascinated by the cultural differences, and sincerely surprised by how much we had in common. My closest friends became the international students at my high school. They inspired my own decision to study abroad, and then live abroad for a decade. I gravitate towards diversity, in my career and in my life. My husband is a Brit, and today, my closest friends remain a mixed bunch of internationals.

So in our house, ‘family’ is more than blood relatives. Our family is made up of people I’ve known my whole life, and people I could call anytime day or night (and have); and those who my children look up to and respect as much as they would any aunt, uncle or grandparent. We are all there for each other, through thick and thin, births and deaths.

The food, the smells, the sounds – they all make thanksgiving special, but it’s the people who make me thankful each and every day. I am surrounded by such a diverse and loving family, which, this year, give me particular hope in a world which has recently exhibited far too much hatred, division, and anger.

I am thankful that we will all come together this week, in unity, sharing love and celebrating our diversity.

The evening will end with a million dishes to wash, enough leftovers to feed an army, and a warm happy feeling. Though not quite as relaxing as it used to be, it remains my favorite holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving!

About Michelle Laker

A California native; I spent 10 years living, studying, working, (and falling in love) in the United Kingdom. I returned to the Bay Area in 2011, with my British husband in tow. I am re-adjusting to life in the bay, feeling more like an expat than a local. I have spent my career working with international student & families. I love learning about other cultures, languages, and traditions. My desire to welcome newcomers, and help you make the most of your new life in the Bay Area comes from the unforgettable memories (and mistakes) I made during my time in the United Kingdom. If you've just arrived, and don't know where to start, email me (michelle-at-lifeinthebay.org). I am happy to help!

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