This time of year, we hear a lot about clashes at the dinner table, travel stress and weight gain. We read about ways to decline dinner invitations and tips to redirect conversations around contentious topics.
Sometimes I wonder if we’ve forgotten what Thanksgiving is all about: a time to set aside differences, gather in the spirit of friendship and give thanks for our blessings. And we, as military families, have a unique opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving in a way that harnesses the real meaning of the holiday.
As you sit around the Thanksgiving table or clink glasses in a toast, think of one – or more! – of these 10 reasons to be thankful as a military family.
1. Our diversity makes us beautiful.
Gathered around the Thanksgiving table, military families can appreciate one another’s diverse backgrounds, traditions, experiences, talents and skills. We have an opportunity every day to appreciate the beauty of this diversity. But, the Thanksgiving table, where each person contributes something that reflects a tradition, passion or talent, is a perfect time to be thankful for the special blessing of our vibrant culture.
2. In the absence of family, we still have family.
Put that way, it might sound strange, but when we open our hearts to the concept, we can see the deeper meaning. Even those who have lived away from relatives for many years might feel sad around the holidays, wishing they were with parents, grandparents, siblings and cousins. But when military families unite on this holiday, those feelings of sadness can be filled with the feelings of true family: support, connection, joy and love. That’s something we can really be thankful for.
3. There’s creativity cooking in the kitchen.
Military families sure get creative in the kitchen! Barbequed turkeys, twice-baked sweet potato boats, mini pumpkin cheesecakes and more add to a festive, fun and relaxed atmosphere. People are more concerned with complimenting each other’s edible masterpieces or playfully out-doing each other’s culinary wizardry than they are with remembering how to avoid talking about politics. The result? A military family Thanksgiving that is just as light and fluffy as that marshmallow dessert… mmmm…
4. Even overseas, we still have all the fixins of home.
Although we relish in the exotic adventures of overseas assignments, we still appreciate the familiarity of American traditions. The Commissary helps us find those items we depend on for Thanksgiving: that 15-pound turkey, the ingredients to our grandma’s stuffing, the peanut butter for our signature dessert. Sure, we could search through foreign labels to find a comparable solution, but we are thankful for the ease and familiarity of the Commissary!
5. We’ve grown in unique ways.
Contrary to civilian life, our military life has helped us grow in many special ways. We’ve stepped outside our comfort zones, powered through deployments and long TDYs, weathered stressful PCS’s and endured high-intensity operations tempos. Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to reflect on how these experiences have helped us grow in positive ways.
6. Military spouses around the world have our back.
Thriving in this life takes a lot of grit on our part, but it also requires provisions and policies to evolve along with the needs of our community. Military spouses around the world work and advocate on behalf of all of us. Because of military spouses, remote work opportunities are exploding, transferring licenses across state lines is progressing and authorities are finally taking action on serious housing problems. Even more spouses are on the front lines of quality healthcare, mental health issues, support for strong military marriages and more. Propose a toast to that!
7. Countdowns can begin.
Thanksgiving begins a swift time of year, as the holidays move quickly through Hannukah and Christmas, into the New Year and stretch over to Valentine’s Day. If we’re in the middle of a deployment, Thanksgiving can be a great time to begin a countdown. The lull of the summer and school year will quickly zoom through the busyness of holiday festivities, and before we know it, Spring will arrive, and we’ll be that much closer to our homecomings.
8. A Thanksgiving table is always open to us.
PCSing shortly before Thanksgiving can make us feel lonely. But, in the military, there’s a Thanksgiving table waiting for us no matter where we go. As years go by, our military networks grow, so we might join friends who are stationed nearby. Military families in general are compassionate and flexible, so we might celebrate Thanksgiving with new acquaintances. Or, we might attend a Thanksgiving dinner offered by the USO or another local organization. Whatever our choice, we can be thankful that many options are available this holiday!
9. We’re Providers – yes, with a capital P.
This life teaches us to be resourceful. Whether we’re learning to stretch a budget or connecting each other to the right support, we grow in our ability to provide for ourselves, our families and our friends. We learn that providing isn’t just about finances, it’s about making the right connections, listening and offering a seat at our table, too. So as we sit around our Thanksgiving tables, let’s give thanks for not only the food we provide, but also the spaces we provide – perhaps at the last minute – for people to gather in friendship, gratitude and joy.
10. We know that time is precious.
We’re used to quick turn-arounds between TDYs and deployments. We’ve all missed our service member on a holiday, birthday or anniversary. Some of us might have consoled a friend or family member as they experienced the traumatic loss of their own service member. One thing is for sure: each moment matters. Whether we’re spending this Thanksgiving with our service member just before he or she deploys, joining close friends or family who welcomed us while our service member is away or celebrating the return of our service member, we can be thankful for the health, happiness and togetherness we share with our loved ones. Time is precious. It’s valuable. These holidays, these experiences, are the times that create memories to treasure for a lifetime.
Raise Your Glass
Maybe you’ve had a wildly successful year or a remarkably tough one; either way, there is something to be thankful for. Think about it, raise your glass to it and spread the joy.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!