Military life gives us so much to be thankful for — priceless travel opportunities, a ride-or-die framily, opportunities to remind ourselves just how strong we are around every corner, and the rainbows of inventory stickers on the legs of all our furniture. What it also gives us is a sweet excuse to put an unconventional twist on pretty much any holiday we want. Oh, your spouse is gone for your actual anniversary? Celebrate a half-anniversary! Hate the 48 hours of food prep and three days of dishes attached to Thanksgiving? Write your own non-traditional Thanksgiving rulebook.
Thanksgiving for Kids
Thanksgiving really is the weakest link in the holiday chain, so instating a non-traditional Thanksgiving is really a no-brainer (or, at least it is for our family). As a kid, I dreaded the day sandwiched between Halloween (which promised 45 pounds of candy, obviously sensational) and Christmas (a month of cookies, two weeks off from school, and presents — oh, hey, holy grail of holidays). Thanksgiving has nothing to entice the kids — yeah, yeah, it’s not about things, it’s about thanks, blah, blah.
As a kid, Thanksgiving was just a spread of varied versions of my least favorite food, the casserole. I mean — hello — all the foods are touching. For at least a decade, I distinctly remember surviving the day on my Grandma’s mashed potatoes, raw veggies from the veggie tray, and one gravy-free slice of turkey. I was hunting for Poptarts or a bowl of ice cream an hour later and couldn’t understand why — in a house full of relatives — everyone was too tired to play with me.
Thanksgiving for Adults
Now that I’m an adult, I totally get why everyone was so tired. The women in my family were fresh off a 48-hour food-prep marathon. Everyone, women included, then slipped into a turkey-induced coma, and it was sacrilege to step out of the living room while the Cowboys were playing unless it was to grab a slice of pumpkin pie.
The food coma I get. All that food I turned my nose up at as a finicky kid turned out to be damn delicious. I don’t know why we, as a nation, deprive ourselves of sweet potato souffle, green bean casserole, and cornbread dressing all year. My best guess is that the person who mandated that also came up with the whole “you can only order a birthday cake on your birthday” nonsense.
There are three things about the painful adherence to the traditional Thanksgiving as an adult I don’t get, though.
- Watching the Cowboys — I might have been born into a Dallas Cowboy family, but once Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith left, so did I. I’ve now been a self-made, loyal New England Patriots fan since roughly 2004.
- All the quality time in the kitchen — Seriously, two days of slicing, dicing, and making enough food for all of the Marine Corps when we know damn well only 12 people are coming to dinner (and four of those are kids who are just going to eat bread and pie) — it’s too much. That is way too much prep for one meal, and the work isn’t even through after the meal! We have to wash every single, solitary dish in the kitchen and make room in the fridge for all the leftovers.
- Room–temperature food — Reasons one and two should be enough, but this is where I really start to embrace the non-traditional Thanksgiving. We make all the things, use all the dishes, rack up astronomical grocery bills in the process, and by the time we get to enjoy the food we slaved over for days, it is room temperature. Why is it room temperature by the time we eat it? Yes, it is partly because we’re doing the holiday special of coercing our kids to eat things they don’t want to eat, but it’s also because we announce that dinner is ready, and nobody makes a move! We know that everyone is hungry, but no one wants to be first in line. We’re all family, leave your courtesies at the door. When mama or grandma or your neighbor says chow time, get off the couch and get moving because she’s starving, but she’s going to be the last one through the line.
Opting for a Non-Traditional Thanksgiving
I went through the motions a few years as an adult. I hosted. I did the potluck thing. I gathered around the table with family. I broke bread with my deployment crew. But, when we were stationed in Monterey, California, fresh off of three years of family-heavy holidays in Corpus Christi, Texas while my husband instructed flight school, we made a command decision: no extended family this Thanksgiving. We were going rogue.
And, if we (read: I) was only cooking for the four of us (read: two of us because there was no way my kids were eating the traditional sides), what was the point of exhausting myself? So, instead of planning my holiday grocery list, I planned a family trip to Sonoma.
I booked an Airbnb in a quiet neighborhood surrounded by vineyards on all sides. We went wine tasting (yes, many vineyards are family friendly). We hiked. We laughed. We jumped in leaf piles. We played at the neighborhood park. We spent time together, just the four of us. And we came home refreshed a few days later to a clean kitchen.
At the risk of offending every single member of my family, especially my dear Grandma who busted her tail to always put together the traditional meal, that non-traditional Thanksgiving in Sonoma, where we made homemade pizza together instead of turkey and all the fixings, was the best Thanksgiving of my life. So, we didn’t stop there.
We’ve made the non-traditional Thanksgiving our Thanksgiving tradition. We travel and make memories, not dirty dishes. We ask the kids what they want to eat for Thanksgiving dinner. I want them to remember the holiday fondly. I want them to look forward to the idea of a day of thanks, not just see it as a box you have to check before Santa comes. And the cherry on this sweet sundae is that I can eat green bean casserole any month of the year, and it sure doesn’t need 14 other sides alongside it to taste good.
Photo Credits: Kristi Stolzenberg