The weeks leading up to Thanksgiving bring Americans together in a flurry of activity: shopping for massive amounts of food, bowling for turkeys, picking apples for pies and finalizing the guest list. Kids squeeze in front of the television to watch the floats in the Macy’s Parade, families gather together for huge feasts and reunions and after the meal there are pickup football games to be played.
No one knows the joy and heartache of tradition like a military family. As November rolls around, the military family often finds themselves fielding phone calls and emails explaining that no, this will not be the year they go “home” for Thanksgiving. That yes, they’ll be fine here in their new home. And fine they will be, because the military community is resilient, creative and welcoming—especially during the holiday season.
Thanksgiving is often one of those holidays where we feel the pull of family, but just can’t get home. Airline tickets skyrocket the week before, and have you ever seen the Jersey Turnpike the Sunday after Thanksgiving? Traffic, weather, cost and time (school children usually only get 2 ½ days off; service members are lucky to get a 4-day or 96), often make travelling “back home” nearly impossible for military families. And for many of us military spouses, civilian companies and organizations do not guarantee the Friday after as a holiday. So we get creative.
A festive block party overseas
Thanksgiving 2009 was the kickoff of our military Thanksgiving tradition. We were living in Germany with our 15 month old and I was pregnant with my second. Thankfully, my husband was actually home! Flying home for Thanksgiving was clearly not an option, and while were absolutely OK with that, we thought having a big meal for just the three of us was silly. Enter my amazing milspouse friends and our new Thanksgiving tradition.
That year there were at least 40 of us gathered around several tables in a stairwell apartment in Wiesbaden. Kids were relegated to fest tables in the basement and adults were in the dining room, extending well to the exterior window of the living room. Several turkeys, a ham, more potatoes and bread than I thought possible and desserts galore! At one point, my son was sitting in the middle of the table learning how to eat whipped cream from the can. It was fantastic. We were with our military family. It then that I realized that while my family is incredibly important, this military family would be the one next door for the next 15 years.
We repeated this in 2010, now with both kids. Most of the same families were there and a few new ones joined. We knew that was our last Thanksgiving in Germany and made the most of it. Salsa music led to dancing and scooting past the table into the kitchen for seconds was an art form. As the night wore on, the kids went to sleep in the pack ‘n’ play in another room and we relished in creating lifelong memories.
When we moved stateside, I was worried that people wouldn’t understand, or even want to participate in an extravagant Thanksgiving that didn’t involve their families. I also knew that I would be apt to submit to the pressure from family to attend their big gatherings. So, I tried it. I decided to host Thanksgiving at my house that first year. We invited our nextdoor neighbors, a family in the neighborhood who quickly became our best friends and our family. My in-laws came up (and even brought the turkey!), and my sister and brother came as well. We had a small kids table, place cards and decorations made by the kids. We watched the parade and enjoyed the time together. We had 17 people over that day and it is still one of my favorite holiday memories.
We moved again that next year, just before Thanksgiving. I was trying to figure out what we were going to do, as I hadn’t even finished unpacking yet. Then, in typical milspouse fashion, a friend invited us over. We had been stationed with that same family once, and, as so often happens, we had found our way back together. We had such a great time with another potluck Thanksgiving.
We’ve continued to do the same through the years. Food and friendship is such an easy gift to give, and most of us love opening our doors and arms (and fridges) to others. This year, in Southern Arizona, I plan to do it outside. To gather my neighbors and friends with lawn chairs and card tables and enjoy the beautiful weather as the kids play. What will you do this Thanksgiving Day? Share your traditions and pictures with us by tweeting #Thanksgiving to @MilSpouseMag and we’ll gather them and share with our audiences in a special Thanksgiving Day post.
What are ways your can bring the feeling of togetherness to your Thanksgiving table?
- Gather your neighbors together and plan a potluck block party Thanksgiving! Make your favorite dish from childhood and share it with everyone.
- Host single service members who are also far from home.
- Plan a Thanksgiving picnic at the playground so the kids can play. Or invite the neighborhood kids over to pre-game and boogie down with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade!
- Invite local veterans, especially elderly veterans who may not be able to make it to family far away.
There is so much to be thankful for as a military spouse! Let’s focus on that this holiday season.