Until I was about fourteen, every Thanksgiving was spent at my aunt's house in Indianapolis. It was a tradition that never changed. It was as comforting as a familiar blanket. We watched the Macy's parade at home while we got ready and then we loaded the car just before noon to go to my aunt's gorgeous home which she had always spent weeks preparing for Thanksgiving company.
The dining room where we ate was massive. I mean, it was like as big as my house. The hunter green carpet sticks in my head almost as well as the people who were always there, the foods that were always served and the routine we always did. Arrive. Eat appetizers. Eat dinner. Sit and talk. Make Christmas lists. Go home full and happy.
Every year it was the same and I looked forward to Thanksgiving equally as much as I looked forward to Christmas. Even though there were no gifts, my family was together, everyone was happy and it was fun. I loved it.
Christmas Eve had its own routine much like Thanksgiving.
We always held our Christmas Eve festivities at my Nan's house which she worked for nearly a month to prepare. It was as if a gingerbread man threw up all over her house. In a good way, of course. The presents were always gorgeous - each bow hand made and each wrapping and ribbon combination carefully thought out. The presents were always fun but even then, it's not really what mattered. The excitement, the happiness - that's what mattered.
But when my parents divorced and my Nan died, everything changed.
My aunt got deeply depressed and moved out of that big, gorgeous house and Thanksgiving was no longer there. I refused to leave my mom home alone on Thanksgiving, so we started having Thanksgiving with her side of the family at our house instead.
Since my uncle is agnostic & my aunt is jewish, we stopped celebrating Christmas Eve.
Suddenly, the holidays had lost their magic.
There were no more gatherings of my dad's family in Indianapolis or Columbus and we didn't make Christmas lists with them anymore, because Christmas wasn't going to be celebrated.
I was devastated.
For years, Thanksgiving and Christmas pretty much just seemed like another day filled with more work. I tried to be happy, but all I could think about were the traditions we didn't have anymore and the family that wasn't there.
I cried. I cried a lot.
It wasn't fair that a time that was once so happy was now filled with dread and sadness.
But then, all of the sudden, things changed.
Suddenly, I took my mom's advice and started making my own traditions. I stopped dreading the holidays and started realizing that even though things have changed, that doesn't mean they're over. I stopped wishing we could just go to Mexico and forget Christmas all together.
This year, finally, I'm excited for the holidays.
I'm excited to start new traditions with our family. I'm excited to visit my boyfriend's family for the first time ever on Thanksgiving. I'm thankful we have good friends who can join us on the holidays so not only do they have a place to go, but our home feels more full once again.
I'm ready this year.
And I write this not because I'm sad, I'm not anymore. I don't write this for pity. I write this because I know everyone goes through this at least once.
Divorce is rampant in families which inevitably changes traditions that were once the only thing we knew. Death is inescapable which leaves our homes feeling empty even in what should be the happiest times.
I write this, because I want you to know that if you're feeling this way, it does get better.
For more than five years, my mom tried desperately to get me excited about the holidays. She proposed new traditions and fun things we could do. I wasn't interested and none of it really made me feel better.
You might be in that same situation, and that's okay.
Because, someday, like me, you'll wake up and feel better and be ready to get back into the Thanksgiving & Christmas spirit.
I know, because I did.