My First Thanksgiving Away From Home

About a week before Thanksgiving, my grandma would start preparing for the grand feast. I would push the shopping cart as my mom and grandma grabbed the ingredients off the shelves before someone could swipe the last can of pumpkin puree or a pack of green beans.

In a matter of days, these separate ingredients would soon transform into mouthwatering dishes that made everyone want to grab thirds. Grandma took the lead as the executive chef while my mom was her sous chef, and meanwhile, I was a line cook/kitchen assistant/official taste tester.

I loved watching and helping the two of them work through the long list of Thanksgiving classics, as I picked up little tips and tricks along the way. Being in the kitchen with them was my happy place, even when my grandma would occasionally freak out over something silly like not me not stirring the cranberries properly. I understood that Thanksgiving is an art, and it should be treated as such, so I adjusted my spoon without putting up too much of a fight.

Credit: Emma Kopelowicz 

When it finally came time to sit down around our dining room table with chairs borrowed from every room in the house, it felt like we had crossed the finish line of a marathon. The food was prepared, the table had been set, and the family had arrived. I would be chattering and catching up with my cousins while my uncles made cringey jokes until my grandma shouted, “it’s ready!” All eleven of us descended into the kitchen like ravenous beasts, piling our plates high with turkey, stuffing, cranberries, creamed corn, and all the other fixings. There would always be a brief lull in conversation as everyone gave full focus to their bountiful plates. Then one of the uncles would always crack and the jovial conversation would pick back up.

It was like this every year and it never got old. Yes, there was always a little drama in the kitchen or awkwardness at the dinner table, but nothing overly unbearable. I always looked forward to the one day a year when all of my favorite things combined into one: cooking, eating, and seeing my family. I couldn’t wait to come back to it all and repeat these traditions after my first few months in college.

Credit: Elle Decor 

At the beginning of October, I found out I wasn’t going back home for Thanksgiving. Instead, my family was going to fly out to the East Coast so we could spend the holiday with my dad’s side of the family in New Jersey. A part of me was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to go home to take part in my usual Thanksgiving festivities and see my other friends on break. Everyone kept talking about how excited they were to go home to their beds and their pets, and I admit that I was a little jealous.

Then two things hit me: First, I was going to have my first ever east coast Thanksgiving with REAL fall weather. And second, I was going to be able to spend time with the family that I only get to see once, maybe twice a year.

So why was I complaining? It mostly had to do with me being wrapped up in the “if it ain’t broke” mindset about my beloved Thanksgiving traditions. As the break drew closer, my firm grip on my established holiday customs grew looser. I came to embrace the idea of trying something new this year even if it meant that I would have to adjust my typical customs.

Credit: Emma Kopelowicz

I hitched a ride with my childhood best friend, her boyfriend, and a whole caravan of other kids headed to New York where I would meet my family for a couple days before the festivities began in NJ. Spending two days in the city felt like a vacation, which distracted me from the fact that I wasn’t going back to LA to help my grandma prep for our annual ultimate meal. I shopped in my favorite neighborhoods, perused some Christmas markets, ate good food, and best of all had a proper shower (sans sandals)! I even managed to arrange some last minute plans to see some friends from back home who were also spending the holiday on the East Coast which also made me feel better about not heading home. Sitting with them in Bryant Park eating churros and hot chocolate made my short trip to NYC that much sweeter!

On Thursday morning, my mom, older brother, and I headed over to NJ after our brief adventure in NYC. We had a sweet reunion with my dad and my other older brother at the bus stop. Listening to their crazy banter made me feel right at home. For the first time in months, the five of us were all together, and I could not have been happier. When we arrived at my grandparents’ house my mood was lifted even higher. All of the regret and envy I had felt before washed away as I gave my grandma and grandpa the biggest hugs. Their excitement to see us all instantly made me forget about all my previous exasperation and embrace this love.

Credit: CultureMap Austin

This year our Thanksgiving meal was delivered in metal trays. The only thing that was homemade was the apple crisp I whipped up a few hours before we sat down. Our table perfectly fit the seven of us: no need for extra chairs. We passed around the plates politely serving each other roasted potatoes and the stuffing my mom doctored-up with spices. This year I was the one who cracked and made the “it’s sure quiet around here” joke.

At first, I felt like I was having a Thanksgiving dinner in an alternate universe. We were doing almost exactly the same things that we would have been doing at home, but something felt different. It wasn’t a bad thing. It just wasn't what I was used to.

Credit: Inc.com

I didn’t mind, though, because I was surrounded by the people in my life that always put me in my best spirits. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t rolling out my own pie dough or eating my other grandma’s famous creamed corn. All that I needed to keep up the most important Thanksgiving tradition of spending quality time with my family was in that room (Cue the awws). Seriously though, I couldn’t have asked for anything more at that moment.

Although this year I didn’t have the Thanksgiving break I had been expecting, I am so grateful that things turned out as they did. We may have switched up our routine a bit, and we didn’t exactly follow tradition, but I can confidently say that this was one of my favorite Thanksgivings to date.

Credit: Emma Kopelowicz

If I were to choose one lesson I’ve learned from this whole experience it would be that home is a feeling. It’s a feeling that you can have anywhere. It only requires a positive outlook and a group of people that love you unconditionally. To me, being at home means spending time with family and enjoying their company. This means this Thanksgiving was like any other Thanksgiving because I never was away from home in the first place.

 

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