I know that my friends in Canada celebrated Thanksgiving a few weeks ago. And my friends here in the US will be celebrating it a few weeks from now. But we’re celebrating it today, the first Saturday in November.
Today, I’ll be roasting a turkey, making cranberry-orange relish the way my mom always made it, and using her recipe to make cornbread. I’ll make a green bean casserole from scratch (no canned cream of mushroom soup!), and a pumpkin pie. I’ll put sweet potatoes and apples with dried cherries in the crock pot. And my husband will make the purple mashed potatoes. I’ll get out the good silver and the blue willow china, and the table will be lovely, and the whole house will smell delicious all day.
Thanksgiving is always a bit of a conundrum for Orthodox Christians on the New Calendar. There’s really nothing more Orthodox than giving thanks. Even though this is a secular holiday, it fits well in our hearts and lives. But it falls during the Advent Fast. And the Advent Fast, the 40 days before the Feast of the Nativity, is a time for preparing, not a time for feasting and celebrating.
Most of our bishops recognize the conflicts that fasting on Thanksgiving would cause for so many of their flock, especially those of us who are converts. How would you tell your non-Orthodox grandparents that you can’t join them for Thanksgiving? Or, if you’re hosting, that you’re going to be serving salmon instead of turkey, and there won’t be any pumpkin pie? So most of our bishops give a dispensation for Thanksgiving. And most of us celebrate Thanksgiving with turkey and dressing and an uneasy feeling that maybe we should be doing something different and doubt about whether the dispensation applies to leftovers the next day.
That’s how we did it, anyway, for many years.
Why We Celebrate Thanksgiving Early
My husband’s daughter, for many of those years, alternated Thanksgiving between our house and her mother’s house. That worked, as well as those sorts of things ever work. But they year she turned eighteen, the parenting plan that had governed her holiday celebrations for many years expired. She didn’t have a court order saying where she should spend Thanksgiving. And, while that might have seemed like a good thing, it upset her greatly. She was afraid that, no matter what she did, either her mom or her dad would be hurt and angry.
So we decided to change the day we celebrate Thanksgiving. Then she wouldn’t have to feel like she was choosing one parent over the other one.
We’ve been doing it ever since. And I love it! Not only was it the right thing to do for my stepdaughter, it was the right thing to do for our faith. We no longer have the side dish of discomfort and doubt at the table, and we’re free to eat Thanksgiving leftovers until they’re gone.
Last year, we tried moving our Thanksgiving celebration back to the “official” Thursday celebration, hoping that our grown kids who live in other states might be able to join us. But, honestly, at this stage in their lives and careers, that’s not possible for them. And I found that having Thanksgiving during the Advent fast was uncomfortable, as I expected it to be. I also found that having it so close to Christmas was stressful for my family. Having two major holidays so close together is too much feasting, too much celebrating, packed into too little time. Spreading it out is more comfortable.
So we’re back to our early November Thanksgiving. And when the “official” Thanksgiving holiday rolls around, we’ll have a four-day staycation. We’ll relax and enjoy ourselves and each other.
I like doing it this way. It works for our family.
Four tips for fasting as a family: Sarah Wright understands why the prospect of the Nativity Fast seems daunting when you have little kids. She shares four ways you can make it easier.
Five Tips for a Merrier Christmas: Sometimes Advent is too much. Sometimes you have to slow down to have a merrier Christmas.
The Adventure of Father Evangelos: A snowy story for Christmas: When the priest in the Upper Village gets sick, the Bishop asks Father Evangelos to go celebrate the Divine Liturgy for Christmas that night. Father Evangelos gets stuck in the snow on the way there, and then gets lost in the woods. A star, and the woodland animals, turn out silently to help him find his way.