Tuesday, November 23, 2010


“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.” - Buddha

(This is a revised post I entered in a contest last year.)

I never thought much about what Thanksgiving meant to me until last year, which should be a blasphemous confession coming from someone who’s taught American History for years.

Thanksgiving just wasn’t ranked high on my holiday favorites list. There aren’t presents, like on Christmas and Hanukkah. It’s getting colder rather than warmer, unlike on Easter and Passover. There are no fireworks, like on Independence Day. And I don’t get to dress up and eat candy, like on Halloween. Worst of all - there’s always a dish of yams, which are vile, even if you dress them up with brown sugar and/or marshmallows. Besides, everything is decorated in oranges and browns, which are not flattering colors for my complexion.

Over the years, Thanksgiving has grown on me. Twenty years ago, I was a Catholic girl who began dating a Jewish boy from the same high school. While there were other issues with us being of two different faiths, choosing which side of the family to visit for the holidays wasn’t one of them.

All Christian holidays were celebrated with my side of the family. In comparison with his family, my family is huge. I had the pretty sedate Irish side of my father’s and the boisterous Italian side of my mother’s. Virtually everyone lived near one another on Long Island.

The Jewish holidays were reserved for my husband’s side, which were usually at my boyfriend’s parents’ house. Then came Thanksgiving.

Since my family seemed to have more of everything: people, holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and so forth, Thanksgiving at my boyfriend’s parents’ home became a tradition. At first, I didn’t think much of it, but in the last sixteen years, several events occurred that made the location and the holiday take on a greater significance.

First, my father’s side of the family began dropping off like flies for various reasons: moves, deaths, and alcoholism. As my father’s family demised, my mother-in-law began encouraging me to invite my father and sister for Thanksgiving.

Second, my mother’s side began to stop making the effort for all holidays, but Christmas. As a child, my parents, along with my mother’s siblings, took turns holding holidays. Over time, divorces, moves, and estrangements messed with our traditions.

Christmas was fun, but never had deep meaning for me, and once I converted to Judaism, I only celebrate at my Aunt and Uncle’s home.

The fact that Thanksgiving has become more important to me is a direct result of my mother-in-law. Most people I meet do not get along with their mother in laws, but that isn’t the case with me – she’s more like a mother. For twenty-one years, she has extended an invitation to my mother, father, and sister, and other relatives and friends she thought might need a place to go. Just like her, her home is a warm and inviting place.

Since I was nineteen, I’ve always felt welcome in her house, enhanced by the fact that my relatives were welcome as an extension of me. When my husband and I made the difficult decision to move all the way to Massachusetts nine years ago, she set everything up to feel like our second home. We’re always invited to visit as often as we want, and to stay as long we’d like.

Thanksgiving is a whirlwind three days of cooking, feasting, cleaning, and visiting relatives. I look forward to it more with each year. When so much of life feels like chaos, the holiday feels like an anchor. The Thanksgiving tradition has become just that.

Our “traditional” Thanksgiving is atypical:

- There’s never a designated time to begin, so people show up when they feel like it. Sometimes this means that the turkey is done hours before dinner.

- Since I’m complimented for my soups, I usually cook one for a first course, which is also probably not normal.

- We’re the only family I know that does Thanksgiving dinner buffet style, with tables set up in the dining room, and people eating casually at chairs in the kitchen, on couches and on the floor at the coffee table in the living room.

- Because of the Jewish influence, there’s usually at least one dish per person, so leftovers are enough to feed many people for many days to follow. The atmosphere is light and festive, while we all weigh ourselves down with food. Everyone leaves satisfied.

When I look back twenty-years-ago, my family seemed so large, while my husband’s seemed too small. So much has changed in twenty-years. Our one constant is my in-laws’ home. Each year for Thanksgiving, there’s a slightly different group of people at my in-law’s home, but the same core are always present: my mother and father-in-law, my sister-in-law, her husband, and two children, my sister, my husband, our two kids, and me. My mother always stops by for a while. Everyone else is just gravy.

Happy Thanksgiving!


  1. Thanks for sharing yoru personal experiences Theresa. So much has changed for me as well in 20 years, and holidays like Thanksgiving are always worth thanks and reflection.

  2. Sounds like your mother in law is a rare gem.
    Happy Thanxgiving.

  3. Sounds like you have alot to be thankful for. Such beautiful senitments to your mother in law.
    Happy Thanksgiving.
    Smiles to you.

  4. I would be lost without my mother-in-law. :-) This was a wonderful post, Theresa. Thanks so much for sharing your Thanksgivings with us. Have a great holiday. :-)

  5. What a lovely post, Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family, what a wonderful mother-in-law you have.

  6. Awww!! How lovely!!! I love your fabulous mum-in-law! She's made Thanksgiving so wonderful and just as it should be - for getting together with family and loved ones and just having a fab time! It really sounds like it's the most wonderful time for you and your family!!!

    I love the thought of buffet style dinner and one dish per person! I think it makes for a more relaxed atmosphere to mingle and move around and speak to everyone!!

    Happy Thanksgiving Theresa Milstein!!! Take care

  7. What a fabulous mother-in-law! Thanks for sharing your personal story with us. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

  8. Nice post. That sounds like a wonderful Thanksgiving tradition. Hope you enjoy!

  9. Wonderful post! It sounds like you have much to be thankful for. :) Happy Thanksgiving!

  10. Your version of Thanksgiving sounds like fun. I like doing the buffet style for dinners, because then people can get up and go as they please; it always seems more formal when everyone is sitting together at one long table.

  11. How lovely. Your mother-in-law is awesome. How nice of her to open her home to extended family members and friends... You found your home with your husband's family and that is definitely something to give thanks for. x

  12. Beautiful post. It makes us imagine you with your family members celebrating Thanksgiving. Thank you for sharing your personal Thanksgiving story. Oh and what a fab Mum-in-law! :)

    Happy Thanksgiving, Theresa! :)

  13. Happy Thanksgiving, Theresa and everyone!

    What a wonderful experience for you to have such in-laws and such an anchor in this sea of life.

    We have always had Thanksgiving with my in-laws, now just my mother-in-law as Dad has passed away. But just today, my husband suggested having a Thanksgiving buffet next year at our home as my mother-in-law is 82 now and my children want to bring their significant others. It's a lot of work. A buffet sounds like the way to go.

    Thanks again for such a lovely experience shared with your devoted followers.

  14. @ Slamdunk, I like how you put it - Thanksgiving is worth thanks and reflection.

    @ Joanna, thank you. She is a rare gem.

    @ Choices, I do have a lot to be thankful for. Smiles to you too.

    @ Shannon, thank you. It's nice to know you have a great mother-in-law too.

    @ Brigid, thanks for the nice comment. Since I can't wish you a Happy Thanksgiving in Ireland, I wish you a happy week.

    @ Old Kitty, happy week to you. Mum-in-law - love how that sounds. It is a nice, relaxed atmosphere, which is just how time with family should be.

    @ Nas Dean, thanks. She is fabulous.

  15. @ Angie, thanks. I hope you enjoy too!

    @ Nicole, thank you. I do have much to be thankful for.

    @ Neurotic Workaholic, it is more fun. It's easy to get up and talk to different people. And it's even easier to to get 2nds or 3rds.

    @ Clutterbug, thanks. My mother-in-law is awesome. I'm lucky I can spend time with her family and mine at the same time since I don't live there anymore.

    @ Len, thanks. Another mum-in-law. Until today, I'd never heard the term. Happy week to you!

    @ Victoria Marie, my in laws' home is an anchor in the sea of life. Well put!

    I'm sorry about your father-in-law. Yes, having a buffet will make it much easier. I hope you have a good Thanksgiving.

  16. Hey Theresa, thanks for dropping by and reading my blogfest entry on Thanksgiving. I love the sound of buffet-style. Way to go!

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  17. Your mother-in-law sounds like a wonderful person. Happy Thanksgiving to you, too!

  18. I LOVE this...

    "Thanksgiving just wasn’t ranked high on my holiday favorites list. There aren’t presents, like on Christmas and Hanukkah."

    I felt like that for the longest time!! But Thanksgiving is such an inviting and warm holiday!

    And we do our Thanksgiving buffet style, too. All the dishes are on the kitchen counters and we just line on up! You're not alone!! It's the ONLY way to do it.

    Have a wonderful, yet different, Thanksgiving!

  19. I love this post. :) Thank you for sharing it with us.

    You certainly have a MIL to be thankful for.
    Happy Thanksgiving, Theresa. *hugs*

  20. Very nice and I agree, the last line is great! Happy Thanksgiving!

  21. Wow, that was a wonderful post Theresa, thanks for sharing! I LOVE that different faiths can live so well together, it shows all extremists of all religions to stick their prejudice where the sun doesnt shine.
    I absolutely loved your thanks giving tradition, and honestly, the fact that it isnt traditional just makes it more special!
    Have a great thanksgiving!!

  22. @ L'Aussie, I loved your blogfest entry.

    And yes, buffet is the way to go!

    @ Susan, my mother-in-law is a wonderful person. I hope she's enjoying the comments.

    @ Katie, glad to hear from another buffet-style Thanksgiving celebrator. It is a warm and inviting holiday.

    @ Lola, thanks for reading my post. Hugs to you.

    @ Jemi, thanks. I'm glad you liked the last line.

    @ Erica, thank you. Glad you liked the last line too.

    @ Clara, love your funny comment. Yes, let all the extremists stick their prejudice where the sun doesn't shine.

    Not being traditional does make the day better. Thanks!

  23. What a lovely piece. Being centrally located to hubby's family, we have become the hub for this holiday. I hope they all feel as comfortable here as you do at your in-laws!

  24. What a slam dunk of a post. You hit on the true meaning of being thankful. Warmth and compassion of JUST giving.

    Happy Thanksgiving.
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  25. @ Vicki, it must be nice to be the hub. Nobody lives near us, so I don't get to host much anymore. Hope you have a good time.

    @ Jules, thanks. My mother-in-law is the most generous person I know.

  26. Hi TE .. thanks for a wonderful story of life, changes, growth etc .. and as you've changed and realised happy times are special.

    It sounds like your mother-in-law is pretty 'cool'! and a wonderful mother-in-law .. very lucky you.

    Have a really happy three days & enjoy Thanksgiving .. Hilary

  27. What a great post! Thanksgiving does feel like an anchor for me as well. I never used to like it either. I guess we all grow to like it. The older I get, the more I want to hold on to my friends and family.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  28. @ Hilary, thank you. My mother-in-law is cool.

    I hope you have a good week.

    @ Aubrie, thanks. It's funny how our perspectives changes as we get older, isn't it?

  29. You are so lucky to have a mother-in-law like that.

  30. You reveal some wonderful dynamics of family and thanksgiving regardless of the challenges.

  31. Even though some of the circumstances were sad, this is a beautiful post. How wonderful for you that you have that anchor/connection and so many people to share with and be a part of.

    I hope this thanksgiving is just as wonderful and that everyone arrives and returns safely!

  32. Wonderful post, Theresa! I hope tomorrow is as wonderful as always for you and yours...

  33. @ Lynda, thanks. I feel lucky.

    @ Paul C, I like the way you put it. Thank you.

    @ The Words Crafter, it is wonderful to have a connection to other people in my family because of my mother-in-law.

    I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving too.

    @ Sharon, I hope you and your family had a wonderful yesterday too.

  34. I hope your thanksgiving was truly wonderful :)

  35. @ Tabitha, I had a nice day, thanks. Hope you did too.

  36. We do buffet style all the time. There's just too many people to fit! Thank you for sharing your traditions. I hope your day was wonderful.

  37. Sounds like a great Thanksgiving! And I'm with you on the buffet, it's the best way to do it:)

  38. What an awesome post about Thanksgiving. It sounds like your family is awesome. And I loved the quote at the beginning. So true!

  39. @ Anne, it does get too hard to fit around a big table with a large group. Glad to know there's another buffeter.

    @ Olive, the nice thing about a buffet is you can move around easier.

    @ Julie, thanks. I like the quote too. Even though it's Buddha, I hear it with a Yiddish accent.

  40. That's a great post. I love hearing how other people celebrate with their families.

    I actually became Catholic after I met my husband so we're both converts :)

    I have to disagree about the yams though - I think they're delicious :)

  41. I love the quote you started this post with. It is so true. The glass is usually at least half-full if we look at it from the right angle.

  42. @ Lisa, thank you.

    So I left Catholicism and you joined, so we swapped!

    Yams - no comment. ; )

    @ Paul, looking at a half-full glass makes us much happier, I think.

  43. thanks for sharing your family thanksgiving story with us. and happy belated thanksgiving. it sounds like a perfect tradition, even if the tradition has changed over time. :0) christy

  44. @ Christy, thank for reading it. It's probably good if traditions have a little room to grow, right?

  45. A wonderful post about real reasons to be grateful! I hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

    And thanks for posting about my Take On Amazon quest! :)

  46. @ Talli, thanks. I had a nice Thanksgiving.

    Happy to participate in the blogsplash. One more day!