For generations, society has projected an image of the typical holiday father. He drank beer while he watched football and shouted about when the food would be ready. The ideal holiday mother has been depicted as a woman who carefully plans the best foods, sets a beautiful table, and serves her guests with bright eyes and rosy cheeks. This pressure is even more true now with the world of Pinterest and Instagram showing us images that produce a picture-worthy Thanksgiving. Today I am asking, us to count that cost.

Instead of the traditional blogger “How To” highlighting hacks for a perfect Thanksgiving, allow me to pass some wisdom from my own family. Stop with all the hustle. Years of holidays with my parents taught me to have an open door and to build a bigger table. 

My Childhood Holidays

I was twelve years old when my dad’s cousins flew in from Orange County California and spent Thanksgiving with us on our 43 acre property in rural Johnstown, Ohio. While I had never met these people before, our home for Thanksgiving was filled with 60 people feasting together and telling stories with billowing laughter that can only come from a member of the Belczak family. It was then that a chance of fate brought my second cousin who became like my west coast sister. She taught me the infamous Belczak family song and I took her on 4 wheeler rides introducing her to the secrets of the forest. That first Thanksgiving riding through snow flurries while we spotted wild turkeys and deer began a connection that has lasted for 21 years.

Thanksgivings like this, and even any other Thursday night of the year were not uncommon for my parents. All my life they have played host to anyone who has ever needed a place to land. Countless people from church, exchange students, and even random friends from college lived with my parents for unsteady seasons until they were ready for what came next. While some of these people have left some pain, most of these people enriched our lives with beautiful, lifelong relationships. I’d like to believe we enriched their lives as well. 

Ignoring the pressure

I have to honor my mother here because she spent my childhood ignoring society’s pressures about what a mother should be. My mother made raising us uniquely her own.

She cared far more about connection than perfection which meant her children were allowed to be themselves and guests were welcome just as they were. 

While many mothers toiled over the details of making sure everything was just perfect, my mother said to everyone, “I’ll have a turkey, everyone else just bring what you can and it will all work out.” Some years we had three sweet potato dishes and we ran out of rolls and gravy. One year she was tired of all the leftover turkey so she made ham instead. One year she decided cloth placemats were a waste to wash so she made laminated placemats out of pictures from all the people most important to us. Truly they are very ugly placemats, but we love them. Our family is far happier eating too many sweet potatoes with ham while looking at old photos. Now as adults, my mother has made it so much easier to gather. She removes the pressures connected to the holiday and says, “All are welcome.”

Next to my peaceful mother is her sidekick, my dad. Never one to be idle, my dad usually makes a deep-fried turkey, helps park cars, and is ready to chop or mix whenever my mother asks. He would never walk through the kitchen before a family party without saying, “Donna what jobs do you have for me?” It is like an unspoken pact they made at the beginning of their marriage to partner together in building a full life.

They wanted a life richly full of people and so they say, “my door is open and there is room at my table.”

Years ago I moved and needed a new kitchen table. When I told my dad what I was going to buy he scoffed and said, “Let me build it.” We designed it together and when I asked for a table to seat 10 without leaves and 14 people with leaves my dad laughed at the scale I was asking him to build. I smiled and said, “Dad, you were the one that taught me this. Have an open door and build a bigger table.” Of course, he agreed and my beautiful, giant table is a reminder of these lessons my parents taught me. While our season of life means gatherings are often hosted in my parent’s home, I’m ready for the days when my table is so often filled with someone who needs an open door and a peaceful chair.

This Thanksgiving I almost got caught in the hustle and expectation being asked of me but this morning I stopped myself and went back to my roots. This Thanksgiving I choose to live a life rich with people. I will open the door with arms wide and be thankful I’ve been blessed with such a big table.

Wishing you the kind of Thanksgiving that shrugs off expectations and fulfills your soul.

Peace be with you,

Mandy Gurney

Follow me on Instagram @GreenGurneys or like our Green Gurneys Facebook page for more thoughts on education, books, health, and wholehearted living.

Read more about our simple Thanksgiving Traditions – Thanksgiving Traditions: Celebrations Beyond Food.

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