Students should not dread changes to Thanksgiving as they age

By Erica Quinones

Thanksgiving is a day of tradition. While some see it as a day to be thankful, that gratitude often corresponds to “family,” whether it be by blood or choice. But as I grow older, I find that the holiday has changed drastically as family and childhood friends alike move on.

I am 21 and feel it. While I can drink, and vote, and get back pain when the temperature drops below 40, I am intimately aware that I am a child. My legal status may be “dependent” and not “minor,” but that means very little. I still live at home and sleep in the same bed as I did 14 years ago. But each time I return to that house, I’m reminded that it is not safe from time’s effects.

Every Thanksgiving break, I watch friends leave campus to visit childhood homes for family dinners or organize Friendsgivings with high school compatriots. And every Thanksgiving break, I find myself wondering if I should even leave Chestertown.

Growing up, family Thanksgiving was the norm. My mom’s massive Irish-Catholic family would cram into one house for an evening of football and brisket. The following day, my paternal grandparents would stop by for the afternoon. But just as I’m expected to take flight come May, so too has my family found their sense of adventure.

While my dad is rooted in my childhood home, my mom has since packed for Indiana with my siblings. Now an impending empty-nester, she’s flown another 20 hours west to Montana.

Some of my extended family followed suit, while others have simply grown up and married into other families.

For those who remain, they either try to wrangle the remaining members together for a quiet evening or shrug off the whole ordeal. The once-mandatory meal has become optional.

A Friendsgiving doesn’t yield a bountiful harvest either. The number of hometown friends I have who are unmarried, local, or visiting wanes each year. This thinning is no one’s fault, but it rings an impending truth louder and louder each Thanksgiving.

I’ve hit that liminal space between growing and grown, where my childhood home is no longer a child.

It happens to everyone. Maybe you’re calling your parents from your new apartment because you accidentally paid the gas bill for the room two floors up, or perhaps you tapped your way into another engagement ring photo on Snapchat. Part of being a young adult is growing up and experiencing the development of others.

You even see that accursed maturing on the eternally youthful college campus. I didn’t fully realize that students grow up until sophomore year when my senior friends disappeared to focus on theses. Then they were gone. It happened again my junior year, and now I’m the hermit senior, watching the last month of my last fall semester fly by without a backwards glance.

Once, it felt as if Thanksgiving celebrations were meant to prevent just that — change. I knew that every November, like clockwork, I’d be in the same house with the same people eating the same meal with the same losing football team on the big screen.

Now Thanks- and Friendsgiving feel like the very demarcation of time: each annual photo capturing the dwindling figures, the taller kids, the new rings.

Maybe there’s something special in those changes as well. While old Thanks- and Friendsgiving traditions wear thin, we find ourselves surrounded by new possibilities.

Part of maturing is making your life your own, defining your own traditions and your new relationships.

While I still mourn my childhood holiday, Thanksgiving grew a new face after my first celebration away from home.

It transformed from brisket and football into eating my first cheese wanton in a dimly lit common room, watching Netflix with a friend’s kitten nipping at my hands, and philosophizing in the bitter 3 a.m. air with a peer.

The holiday became what I needed it to be, shaped by the new — if limited — people near me and the means at our disposal.

So, there’s no reason Thanksgiving can’t be what we need it to be. Why can’t a microwaved potluck on the dorm floor or a meal shared in the midst of a deafening Dining Hall sing of a new Thanksgiving? Or for that matter, why should a dwindling family dinner or Friendsgiving feel any less special than a full one?

There is no right way to experience the holidays, and that’s especially so as we mature. Rather, we are growing into them and giving them shape one year at a time.

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