How I Re-Traditioned Thanksgiving for Good

I have unleashed a powerful practice this month that may elevate my life forever.

But, look at that, I am ahead of my own story.

It begins as a Thanksgiving tale rooted in ninety years of tradition on my mother’s side. They were annual gatherings that regularly convened through world wars, the Great Depression, a moon walk, Seinfeld and the invention of the salad spinner. And oh, my goodness, how my Grandma Annie, Great Auntie Mae, my cousins and second cousins and most especially my Mom loved Thanksgiving.

I hail from Waukegan, Illinois, an hour due north of Chicago where our weather the third week of November is generally a gloomy, leafless affair. We weren’t one of those cool active families that scheduled the Life magazine flag football game in the morning. Instead, we were the cool party family that set a 3:00 p.m. arrival, showed up with bells on, and then ate and drank our way to 10:00 pm that night or later. The cocktails were poured right from the start, abundant appetizers graced the coffee tables, football blared on the TV and around 6:30ish we sat down to a formal china, crystal, sterling silver Thanksgiving dinner. The menu was pretty much locked. Rare substitutions. Few tweaks. Turkey, dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, rutabaga, oyster stuffing, relish trays loaded with olives, pickles, carrots and celery, wiggly canned cranberries, green bean casserole, canned corn (for a special green bean hating cousin-in-law), Waldorf cool whip salad, dinner rolls, pumpkin pie, pecan pie and lots of aerosol whipped cream (sampled earlier in the kitchen by my cousin Debbi and I straight from the can with loads of hilarity). Coffee and cordials were served in family heirloom bone china cups and crystal snifters collected over a lifetime or two. We played Trivial Pursuit while sipping specially made Irish cream coffees, shared stories and updates and were always left feeling it had been the best Thanksgiving ever. Looking back, I think the removal of expectation that opening presents and all the commotion and joy and disappointment it brings gives Thanksgiving an ease often lacking in December.

My Grandma and her sister, Mae, traded hosting duties for many decades and then passed it down to my mom and Cousin Shirlee and then finally, more decades later, it was mine. Each of those five years I had it, I took Wednesday off from my busy Oprah Show job to prepare. I peeled and chopped and mixed and baked and ultimately finished my chores only minutes before I opened the door to my vintage 12th floor apartment on Thursday afternoon. Helming a formal sit-down holiday feast for 25-30 people when you are not a cook requires real pluck, I tell you.

But my years of hosting were almost over before they began. The first time was gut-wrenchingly traumatic. My mom was alive then, sitting at my kitchen island for hours on Wednesday, carefully instructing me on how to do it all her way and there was no other way to do it. More butter. More salt. She made everything better. The next morning at the crack of dawn we loaded that thirty-pound stuffed bird into the big oven of my rarely used fancy six burner stove. All of my prep efforts had borne real fruit. My tables were set, my casseroles made, nothing to do but relax and get ready to greet my guests. I felt confident. In hindsight, perhaps…too confident.

At about 1:00 p.m. a little voice in my head said, “Hmmm. The turkey has been in for hours, why don’t I smell anything cooking?” I walked to the kitchen and opened my fancy oven to discover a gigantic pimply ice-cold bird stuffed with now bacteria filled inedible stuffing in my sparkling clean, cold oven that had clearly malfunctioned…on Thanksgiving.

Mom, Dad and I tried not to panic but this was a downright catastrophe. Judging by the time, our guests were out in the suburbs loading up their cars for the seventy-minute jaunt to the city and we knew in our hearts that serving no turkey would have been the equivalent of a Charlie Brown Christmas. Disappointedly sad. As I heard my Dad in the kitchen suggesting we call everyone and ask them to stop by their local grocery stores and grab some rotisserie chickens, I gnashed my teeth, tucked my PJ’s into my Ugg boots, threw on my long winter coat and sunglasses and drove like the wind to my local Whole Foods, God bless them, I will always believe they were truly there for me in my darkest hosting hour. I ran to the meat counter and spied two gigantic trays of sliced herb roasted turkey – “Those are mine!” I said frantically calling dibs. “All of it?” he asked incredulously. “Yes, good sir, wrap it up and hurry!” I also tucked three quarts of Whole Foods gravy under my armpits and ran to the check out. I got home just seconds before my first guests arrived, jumped in the shower to rinse off the flop sweat, and changed into my hostess outfit. I gave a wink to my Mom who was worried sick and proceeded with my first Thanksgiving dinner ever. I was only outed near the end of the meal when someone asked for a drumstick. I told the story. Now legend.

I would be hosting Thanksgiving forever or until I couldn’t fit one more person in my house but then I moved to Los Angeles and that was that. Ninety something years was over. My family broke off into their own little pods to begin new traditions, adding new people through marriage and birth and maybe even some new recipes. The end of an era. We had held on as long as we could.

Such is the bitter and sweet of this physical life. People transition in and out of those chairs around the Thanksgiving table whether we like it or not. Some move to new cities, some move on through divorce, and of course some move on to that big Thanksgiving table in the sky. We mourn the moving on, we mourn the change and in that mournful mindset we just plain mourn the impermanence of living. Those pesky sands through the hourglass. You cannot count on anything to stay the same.

So here I find myself on the other side of the country in the process of creating my own new traditions in Los Angeles, in my new life, in my new home. It has become clear that the things I used to be able to count on growing up won’t be the same. The guest list will change depending on who is flying in town or who is free that day. I don’t eat meat anymore so there won’t be a big bird in the oven. Last year, a table filled with people I call ‘framily’ were here. We drank “Bloodies”, swam in the pool most of the day, ate our feast and then danced in my foyer until 2:00 in the morning. Very non-traditional but so much fun. This year my Chicago family is flying out and will fill up my house so it will be a little like old times with a new twist or two. And maybe next year will be entirely different once again. So how do I bring that sense of ritual that I love so much to a new day? How do I make the Thanksgiving holiday that I have always loved so much my own?

I gave this much deep thought as November was nearing. I wanted to create something that would be impervious to external conditions not dependent upon anything or anyone but me. I wanted a sense of rootedness, timelessness, and most especially a sense of meaning that would ground my celebrating until the end of my days. And finally, it came to me in a glorious epiphany that what I really craved was a vibrational foundation. I wanted a way to surround myself with the energy of thanks for the entire month of November. The ideas came fast and furious and have begun to shape themselves into a month long practice that I launched on November 1st. It includes candle lighting, special meditations I conjure myself, focusing repeatedly on mindfulness and present moment awareness all in service to the superpower of radical appreciation. Every sight, smell, taste, conversation, experience, person, everything is reframed as presenting itself to me as a gift to unwrap, a treasure to unearth.

I am halfway through this first time around and I’m finding that I cannot cast a glance anywhere in my world, at any one, any being, any object without finding a spark of a story that fills me with appreciation.  As each hour passes, as each day passes of my practice I feel lifted, elevated like I have somehow stumbled on to yet another monumental secret of happiness.

For thousands of years, sages, from every walk of life, have told us that there is gold in those appreciation hills. And now I’m mining that gold and building on that wisdom by creating a forever tradition I will celebrate from November 1st – 30th each year. And what’s on the menu and who’s at the table is just going to be a lovely surprise.

I learned from Abraham-Hicks (my 15 year spiritual practice) that appreciation is actually higher on the vibrational scale than gratitude. With gratitude we are sometimes saying thank you that things are better than they used to be—adding a bit of resistance to our energetic offering. Appreciation, the reveling in a thing just for the sake of joy and pleasure, is cleaner, more buoyant, and there are no strings attached. That resonates with me. And I’m finding this month that, lo and behold, appreciation is the gateway I’ve been seeking. It’s the perfect prescription to melancholy about what has gone before and is no more. Appreciation softens mourning and offers a rising up. And in the rising up I see the passageway to the rest of my dreams.

And I am very much appreciating that.