In 2009, I reflected on Thanksgiving an all its myriad meanings and ended up writing a post I still recommend to clients who are struggling with family legacies that might need to be changed or dropped:
This week I’ve been thinking about money.
And how so many people get all weird and wobbly when it comes to talking about it. Asking for it. Having it at all.
And it’s interesting that they way our parents and grandparents handled money probably affects the way we handle money. I think about the woman whose immigrant parents struggled and sacrificed and lived in poverty. And now, even though she makes a million dollars a year, she hoards paper towels and soup… just in case.
Or the guy whose dad was a dreamer and a schemer. When they had money, they spent it – lavish dinners, fancy trips, stylish clothes. And when they had no money, they fantasized about how they’d spend it once it came back. Today, this guy has no savings and wonders what happens to his cash.
A couple of months ago I wrote When Gifts Become Junk – just because someone gives you a gift, like a legacy around money, you don’t have to take it.
It’s kind of like Thanksgiving.
I remember the first time I had to cook Thanksgiving on my own. I planned to carefully replicate the traditional family menu, but then ran into a little blip. Where my family had bread-and-oyster dressing, heavy on the sage, his family had cornbread dressing with plenty of celery and onion. My family was mashed potatoes, his was rice. Ours was brown gravy. His had hard-boiled eggs floating in a yellow gravy.
We each had our own idea of What Thanksgiving Is and What One Must Consume So It Is Truly Thanksgiving.
Compromise felt like loss.
Oh, I come by the feeling of What It Should Be quite naturally – another family legacy. I remember my mother preparing Thanksgiving when I was a child. She looked at our loaded table and would always say, “You know, my grandmother would have chicken and dumplings, ham, turkey, fried chicken, and four different kinds of pie…this just doesn’t seem like Thanksgiving to me.” The fact that we had ham and turkey and three pies – never lived up to what Thanksgiving Should Be.
What a struggle. It’s the tension between fantasy and reality, really. It’s the tightrope of being present right here and now, and living in a storied and maybe flawed recollection of a “better time.” It’s an oppressive and unrealistic burden because the past you’re trying to match was probably not as wonderful as you recall. It probably wasn’t any more happy than you can make today.
So to be firmly here in the present, and living a happy life, there comes a point when you simply choose to make your own Thanksgiving.
Take a look at the heritage of your forebears and decide what you want to consciously take forward with you in your own life. It is absolutely OK – hey, it’s more than OK, it’s imperative — to decide whether you want to continue with the tiny marshmallows on the top of the super sweet potatoes, or go a bit healthier and replace that traditional dish with, oh, steamed broccoli.
You create your own traditions, not because what your parents and grandparents did was wrong. It may have been really right. For them. At that time. But now, it’s your life. You can create your own way of being in the world, darling, because you are you – not them.
Look at the legacies gifted to you by your parents and grandparents — around money, around relationships, around body image, around holidays – and decide: “Is this what I want for myself? Does this make me happy, or give me stress?”
If a tradition works for you, and makes you very, very happy – then keep it. If a tradition feels like a heavy obligation, and makes you very, very stressed – then it’s time to lovingly let that relic go.
Feel free to make your own menu, and it will be your own Thanksgiving. Every single celebratory day.
From my family – who have happily developed our own Thanksgiving traditions which do not include miniature marshmallows – to yours: Every best wish for a happy, healthy and gratitude-full holiday.