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We’re Holiday Orphans Once Again – But We’ll Be Fine

By Kristen Thompson. Published in The View, Oct. 2017

The meaning of Thanksgiving has been evolving slowly as I get older, and as my life changes. Of course, the overarching theme has always been constant – to reflect on and offer gratitude for what and whom I have in my life. But the “what” and “whom” seem to change slightly from year to year.

Sometimes the changes are subtle, and other times – like this year, as we get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving in a new city – the changes feel monumental.

Change can be good, especially for people like me who prefer tradition and familiarity. Change pushes me into situations that ultimately help me grow.

But those changes aren’t without some measure of sadness, especially around the holidays, when old traditions have to be reinvented, and you feel the absence of those with whom you’d previously raised a holiday toast.



This year, I’ll be missing my family. I’ll be missing hiking in the woods, then coming home to my parents’ cozy country house to the smell of turkey and cloves and wood fire. I’ll be missing the colours of fall in Ontario.

This feeling of holiday homesickness isn’t new to me, but it’s been years since I last felt it. In the decade I spent in Vancouver, we would throw an annual “Orphans’ Holiday Dinner” – a feast for all of us who were spending the holidays far from home.

Those dinners vacillated between hilarious (deli turkey fried in a pan with stovetop stuffing and boxed mashed potatoes) and epic (there was one year when we had two turkeys, and made the four parents in attendance sit at the “kids’ table”). We would raise glasses of $9 wine and give thanks for the adventure of new adulthood. We celebrated our youth and crappy apartments and cool barista jobs.

As we got older, we raised our glasses of $15 wine to new homeownership, first promotions, and engagements.

In our early 30s, and when my husband and I moved back to Ontario, we celebrated the birth of babies, the return “home”, and the re-kindling of old relationships.

Now we’re in the second half of our 30s, in a new home and city, with children who were babies only last year – or so it seems. We’ve got new friendships to celebrate, and old ones to miss.

The direction my life takes from year to year often takes me by surprise. I could never have guessed, for example, that life would return me back to another Thanksgiving without my family. That we would be holiday orphans once again.

It’s different this time, of course, because we are a family unto ourselves, now. Whether we make a six-course dinner, or deli turkey with boxed potatoes, we will be together, celebrating all that we have here, and this great new adventure.

The traditions we’ve been accruing in all the places we’ve called home will continue here, and maybe even change a little. We’ll go for our annual hike in a new forest, then return home to the familiar smell of turkey and cloves.

And we’ll raise a glass to all the people who’ve celebrated with us throughout the years – the blood family and surrogate family, and the new family we’ve made here. We’ll be sad, because change can be sad, and we’ll be happy, because there’s so much to be happy for.

And in that complicated, nostalgic place where sadness and happiness mix, we’ll find thanks.

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