Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

Adjusting to a Small(er) Thanksgiving

Updated Published
The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CU Boulder chapter.

Every year, when Thanksgiving rolls around again, I come to my mom with my most anticipated question: “How many people are coming?” Our house has been the designated host location ever since we moved in nine years ago — tucked away from the hordes of traffic and craziness of holiday travel. However, this serenity soon vanquishes when relatives’ cars begin to pile up and down the street in front of our house, and they waddle in, carrying varying sizes of tins and packages. 

I’ve come to expect an answer of approximately 15, a number usually consisting of three aunts, two uncles or so, my sister, the two cousins I live with, the young adult cousins, the adult-adult cousins, some kids of the adult cousins, my grandpa, and perhaps a new boyfriend or girlfriend. This meant as soon as break started, I was helping my mom prepare to host what seemed like our entire extended family for a holiday feast of grand proportions. 

After three days straight of sorting through grocery bills, pulling old china out of the cupboards, rationing oven time, cooking old and new recipes, and sneaking bites of dishes as they were made, everyone would finally be seated peacefully (the calm after the storm) with a heaping of hot food in front of them. I remember seeing my cousins’ uneasy faces as they realized they had overestimated their hunger and the twinge of anxiety I felt as we would go around and say what we were thankful for that year. Dinner would quickly descend into an assortment of side conversations, yelling across the table to inquire about a new job, elbows bumping as we ate, and constant compliments about this dish or that. 

This year was the first ever where I wasn’t told to fetch an extra chair or give up my bed so a relative had a place to sleep. Instead of squeezing in between cousins at the corner of our dining room table, as the youngest usually does, the mere seven of us sat down with plenty of room to spare. 

When I heard how many people weren’t coming back home this year, I was angry at first, as if they had an obligation to show up and be the people they were a year ago and the year before that, too. I didn’t even consider their own busy schedules, tied down with the commitments that life brings as you grow up and take on more responsibility. Yet, before Thanksgiving even had a chance to start, I was anticipating the disappointment of an empty driveway, devoured dishes, and the rambunctious playing of “Super Mario Bros” and “Just Dance.” As I sat down to eat, however, I relinquished this pity in exchange for appreciation — of change and what home means to me. 

Being the youngest has always meant seeing others peak mountains before you’ve even had a chance to start, and I’ve spent my life watching from the sidelines. I’ve sat through many graduations, seen my cousins find their own passions, and witnessed my sister start her first full-time job. Instead of feeling bad for not being where they are, I’ve had to accept where I am in life and appreciate the moment instead of looking back or forward and comparing myself to others. To celebrate the progress of others is to be confident in yourself and embrace change. 

So, full table or not, I’m grateful this year to be surrounded by so many passionate people who aren’t afraid to go forth in life with tenacity, and being on the sidelines means I get to witness it all for myself, the next one to start.

Olivia Neilly

CU Boulder '26

Olivia is a sophomore at CU Boulder double majoring in Molecular Biology and English. While one day she hopes to attend medical school, she still loves to read and write, often curled up with a good book and a cup of hot coffee. When not in class or studying, Olivia enjoys visiting cafes, shopping for new books, playing with her dog, or watching movies. Her favorite films are La La Land, Silence of the Lambs, and Amadeus. She is also passionate about research in biological and neurological fields, and she works in a lab at CU to help learn more about neurogenetics and mental disorders. Olivia is excited to be able to publish her work and explore a wide variety of topics that bridge between science and art along with what it's like living as a college student in Boulder, CO.