Embracing New Traditions For Thanksgiving
As a child, I was fortunate enough to live in one place all of my life. One set of grandparents lived very close to us and we loved spending holidays together. So, a few years ago when Thanksgiving rolled around and my family and I were living in Louisiana several hours from any other family, I realized that we’d have to figure out how to do this Thanksgiving thing on our own. I had never before cooked a turkey or a chicken…or even a ham!
I managed to keep Thanksgiving low stress despite my inexperience. Because we’ve been constantly in changing circumstances we rarely have a Thanksgiving that is the same as the year before…and that is okay. I can roll with those punches.
Here are a few things I learned that have helped me cope with Thanksgivings away from family:
1) Thanksgiving does not have to be the full traditional meal- Is it just the two of you? Do you have a newborn? Little kids, who turn their noses up at anything besides chicken nuggets? If so, why put pressure on yourself to make a fantastic feast? You don’t have to cook a full meal. You have options, so don’t feel forced into slaving in the kitchen all day. You could cook a small turkey and a bit of potatoes. You can skip turkey all together and go with something like pizza, spaghetti or jelly sandwiches.
2) How about the chow hall? I had a friend whose husband was on a unique schedule so the best option for them last year was to go to the chow hall and eat so they could spend time together. A side benefit was that her kids were able to entertain the airmen who were on break from work and missing their own families.
3) Order dinner in- One year we had friends visiting for the weekend and we decided we wanted to spend our time together talking and seeing the sights rather than spending the day in the kitchen cooking so we ordered Thanksgiving dinner in a box from the club and picked up dinner on the way home from a day trip. It was as affordable, easy, low stress, and allowed us to make the most of their time there.
4) Realize you are not alone- While your family may physically be isolated from your loved ones, you are not unique in this situation. There are many military families and single airmen in this same boat. Do you have friends from the squadron or church you could get together with? Single airmen in your unit? Reach out to those friends or others who you know are not able to travel home and host a potluck and celebrate together.
5) Attend a community event, and then travel on the actual holiday- Most squadrons and communities have a Thanksgiving potluck. Consider attending that to get your fill of turkey. Then travel on Thanksgiving for a short day trip or weekend getaway. Pack some of your travel bucket list into those long weekends.
6) Service- Find a soup kitchen or some other way to serve to help others. Many organizations exist that need help on the holidays. Spend some time doing what you can to help in the community.
7) Start a new tradition- Decide that your new Thanksgiving meal is chili and cornbread, or Chinese food. Play board games or go on a bike ride. Just remember to be flexible. What works for you this year, may not work next year, and that is okay.
8) Use technology- Technology is awesome folks! While you might not be able to be with your family in person, you can set up a video chat to catch up. My family is currently scattered all across the U.S. On the first Sunday of every month we have a family video chat. It is a wonderful way to keep up to date on each other’s lives.
9) Travel or celebrate at a different time. Perhaps you or your spouse don’t have Thanksgiving Day off to travel or celebrate. Have it another time. Celebrate earlier in the month if that is what works best for your family or group.
One of the biggest tips is to not hang on to the idea that holidays must be done a certain way. A plan is great, but flexibility and willingness to adapt is even more important. The details of what you eat and what plates you use are not important details. Get your friends together, get to know people in the squadron or at church at a community event, go serve, get out of town, whatever works but do something. In the military community, you make family and traditions wherever you go!