Create a Family Thanksgiving: Starting a New Tradition in the Face of Loss

I want to talk to you about celebrating holidays. And really what we have to do as motherless daughters is to create new holiday traditions. Holidays are here and the dread and loneliness overwhelms a motherless daughter putting a damper on the season that we’re supposed to be joyous about.   

The grief is so deep, I’m not sure I want to go there. It’s easy to stay in the pit.  But if we have others who depend on us, we can’t stay there. Not only does the loss of a mother, but sometimes we are dealing with very difficult extended family members who make us want to say no thanks to celebrations. But . . .  

I want to talk to you about holidays and creating new traditions. What can we do when we’re faced with this loss? Can we have new traditions? We don’t know what we can do.  

Just recently, a young motherless daughter expecting her first child, expressed her dread and her sorrow about the upcoming holidays. She said, “Where are we going to go?” “How am I going to teach this child holiday traditions.” “I don’t know what to do, this is really going to be a disaster. I am so sad. I don’t know what to do.”  

This brought to mind a tradition I started really over 40 years ago. And I continue to this day with this tradition. I call it my “Create a Family Thanksgiving.”  

A little backstory about my loss. My mother had died when I was 15. My father was gone when I was 10. Most of my extended family members, aunts, uncles, grandparents, were gone before I was 30 years old. When I was just a little older than 30, I was suddenly left as a single parent with no support system. I wanted desperately to give my children some kind of tradition to look forward to for the holidays. What was I supposed to do? I surely wasn’t the only person who dreaded the holidays. If I wanted to give my children a holiday tradition, I was going to have to create one. So I did.  

I began thinking about others I knew who did not have family and would more than likely be spending the holidays by themselves. Alone, like me. That was all I needed. To create a new tradition. I labeled my new tradition as “CREATE A FAMILY” Thanksgiving. I did not limit myself with who I would invite but what kind of space I had. That was the limitation.  

I had to break out of the traditional thinking of the dining room table. If I could borrow folding tables and chairs, I could set up tables throughout the whole house. Through my living room, my dining room, my kitchen, family room, I even used bedrooms. I could invite many more people than I had originally had thought.  

I began my invitation list of coworkers, neighbors, friends, people I thought were going to spend Thanksgiving alone. Now I have to tell you, what made it really fun, was creating the menu. I prepared the traditional turkey and dressing and gravy. When others asked what they could bring, I always let them because in order to feel a part of the celebration, they had to contribute something.  

I gave them each a color. What? Not a vegetable or dessert or a side dish? I needed to make sure to create a new tradition. I would say, “you bring something orange,” “ you bring something green,” “you bring something white,” “you bring something yellow,” “you bring something red,” “you bring something brown.”  I went through the whole color palette that way. They always asked if I wanted it to be a vegetable or a side? I’d say it’s your choice. We had some very interesting dinner spreads.  People went all out to be creative.  

When they arrived. I had name tags ready because these people didn’t know each other. And in order to mix people up, I had each table numbered. They drew for the table that they would have dinner with new friends. Conversation and after dinner games always rounded out the evening. In later years, I remarried and the tradition continued. One year our daughter had given her dad a nerf miniature golf game and we design a miniature golf course throughout the whole house and had a tournament playoff.  

People are so excited. They knew it would be something different, and they loved it. My children loved it. I loved it. It did something for me. It took me out of the grief pit and connected me with others who needed me as much as I needed them. 

I want you to know, I know how difficult holidays can be. I know how lonely they can be. I know that the Hallmark advertisements absolutely bring me to my knees. I know you will be okay, I will too. Share the new traditions with me that you had have made. Consider what you might do to make a difference in your life and others who may also be spending the holidays alone.  

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