When Thanksgiving Isn't

I woke up this morning with a heavy heart.

I know that’s not the sort of thing you’re supposed to admit the day after Thanksgiving.

But in this case, Thanksgiving is to blame for my melancholy.

I had such high hopes for yesterday. For years now, our family holidays have tended toward the cultural and superficial. Nothing wrong with that. I love to cook a Thanksgiving meal, and family time while opening presents on Christmas morning is a warm memory.

Problem is, those events skin the surface of the real reason we are celebrating. These holidays (literally, holy days) are about much more than food and gifts. They are about God and our relationship to Him. They give us a chance to stop and remember and worship. The routine act of eating transforms into an humble act of thanks. The gifts exchanged are but a tiny echo of the Great Gift lavished on us.

In the midst of the cultural celebration, it’s easy for those deep truths to get lost – especially for those of us who have many wonderful family traditions. There’s nothing wrong with the way the day has always been spent. It’s just that I want it to be something more.

So yesterday, we said, “Happy Thanksgiving!” But the family hike in the woods I wanted to do, the one that would be the beginning of countless thoughtful family hikes in the woods on Thanksgiving, never happened. First the baby fell asleep. Then the turkey had to be put in he oven. Then the baby woke up. Then the baby was hungry. Then the guests arrived. And so I found myself crunching through the frosty air by myself at 4:00 PM yesterday, a journey separate from the one my husband took with our older kids a few hours earlier.

And my heart was glad to be outside and thankful for this great gift called life. But honestly? I was also discouraged.

Because by the time the walk was over and I went back inside to warm up, the game of Monopoly was still going on. Dinner was ready and yet the table wasn’t set, so we rushed to pick up the game pieces so we could eat. A prayer was said, but it was rushed because the kids were restless. And then two of the kids didn’t want to eat, having contented their bellies with the appetizers of crackers and cheese, and Teyla wouldn’t sit in her chair and someone started to talk politics and I left the table in the middle of dessert to bathe the baby so I wouldn't say what I’m thinking and suddenly

the day was over.

And we didn’t thank God for hardly anything. We didn’t focus on the many, many gifts we’ve been given.

It was just a day, a day of food and fun. A day of stress and distractions. Not a day of mindful gratitude.

Just an ordinary American Thanksgiving.

And I hate it.

I wanted something more.


  1. Believe it or not, you will look back on those sort of celebrations fondly as your family gets older and scattered. At that point, just being all together is a blessing.

    Also? The sort of day you pictured does become easier to accomplish once your youngest is 5 or so. It's not realistic when the kids are younger, is all. Take heart - better days are coming.

    But you will still miss the times you are in right now.

  2. i am 100% with you. i FEEL every bit of this.
    matt & i talked as we drove home about the very real possibility that we won't go to our normal extended family Christmas. it will be hard on some of the family members there, but i just want MORE. of Him. for Him.

  3. I had a great Thanksgiving but never sat down and actually had a meaningful moment with God. I'm thankful that my gratitude can mean as much to Him today as it would have yesterday.

  4. I'm sorry your day did not go the way you wanted. But your busy family life is a reflection of your gratitude. The baby you bathed is a testament to your faith. I do hope that you get what you want in future holidays, but don't discount the ordinary holiness of your life. Peace Kelly.

  5. You describe perfectly the many Thanksgivings I spent in frustration when my girls were younger. Go easy on yourself and your kids and your extended family members. The day will soon come when you will look around the table with tears in your eyes and think, "How did they get so big?!" like I did yesterday.

  6. Last year was the first year Christmas was OFF LIMITS...that meant we did not go ANYWHERE, to visit ANYONE. We host Christmas Eve, all are welcome. We go to church and then we share food and watch the kids open gifts. Not everyone likes doing this on "eve" but for us that's when we party. Christmas is OURS. We spent our time at home, for the kids that meant playing with all the new toys. For Rob and I it is a day to celebrate and hold dear for Our Saviors birth. Then on the 27th we celebrate Nina's birthday and Jan 1st is Nick's...so yeah, we are "selfish" and use Christmas as an excuse to be "quiet". We don't always get to see some of our family, because they choose not to join us, just like we choose not to loose our Christmas day to them...As for Thanksgiving, I pretty much take over with my Family and give the prayer. If I didn't do that it would feel just like you said.

  7. That is exactly how I felt - how i have felt - on Thursday and so many other holidays these past few years. I'm already starting to plan for next year because I don't think I can do it like this again.

  8. I know, I know. But one thing I've learned--often (usually?) the most precious celebrations are spontaneous. Special days carry too much weight. Joy comes unexpected.