The “Bitter” in the Bittersweetness of Thanksgiving Day

I don’t know what Thanksgiving Day is like for you, but for me, it’s the best one out of the other three hundred and sixty-four. It’s without a doubt, my absolute most favorite day of the year. But for about the last seventeen years, it’s also been the bitter sweetest day for me.

Missing family members on Thanksgiving Day makes it bittersweet

Let me explain.

To me, Thanksgiving is the greatest day of the year, bar none.

I get to run my local five-miler road race with Dave and all our runnerbuddies. Then I get to watch my Marblehead Magicians football team play (and hopefully win). I get to spend the entire day with my family (and because I like them, it’s actually enjoyable). I get to eat tons of tryptophan until it’s oozing out of my eye sockets. And then, after the whole thing’s over, I get the bonus prize of being able to clock out of the kitchen for at least two days post-holiday because of all the leftovers. It’s positively dreamy.

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And as if that wasn’t enough, I don’t have to buy so much as a single Hallmark card or wrap even one gift because it’s not that kind of holiday. Winning!

Clearly all of that represents the sweet part of the bitter sweetness. The bitter part has to do with the guest list. Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re supposing that I hate my in-laws and that I dread having them under my roof for two weeks. Well you’re wrong. Stop assuming you know everything. I’m one of the small handful of people who actually adores my in-laws. So them coming is part of what makes it so perfect. Well, almost perfect.

See, ever since my parents retired to Florida about seventeen years ago, my Thanksgivings have been, well, different. Different because my parents are roughly 1,200 miles south of my dining room table on Thanksgiving Day, making passing the cranberry sauce an incredible challenge.

The thing is, growing up, my house was the epicenter of everything. And I mean everything. Every holiday, every celebration, all the big occasions and even all the small ones. So being together as a complete family unit was all I ever knew.

But, whether we like it or not, things have the tendency to change. Not always for the worse; they just change. And when I got married and my parents moved down south and my mother-in-law took over hosting, there was a seismic shift in the tectonic family plates. And then, after a decade of my mother-in-law hosting, they moved twenty-five minutes away from my parents and I took over. And the plates shifted again.

Life is constantly changing around us, whether we’re in the mood for it or not. So what we have to remember is to keep a wide stance so we can compensate for the movement. More importantly, we have to remember that there are always trade-offs to change that keep the balance equitable.

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For me, the trade-off for not having my parents with us for Thanksgiving Day is that I have them for June and July, when they come north for the summer. Then, in early fall, they migrate back down to their condo and stay put until spring. It’s a cold thing. But my mom is notorious for popping up for mid-winter visits just because we can’t possibly go that long without seeing each other. You know, girls and their moms.

And while that doesn’t allow us to celebrate Thanksgiving in the same room, it does give us a beautiful chunk of time to enjoy together. And for that, I’m truly thankful.

You see, I know there are plenty of people out there who, for various reasons, are in similar situations this week. Wishing they could be together with family and friends but, for whatever reason, can’t be. Maybe they’re serving overseas (thanks for that, by the way), or maybe plane fares are too high, or maybe someone’s not well enough to travel. Everyone has a story. And believe me, whatever the reason is, I feel you. Because, like most people, I’d like to be surrounded by all the people I love the most on Thanksgiving. But even in spite of not being, we’ve managed to make do.

We’ve taken advantage of every type of connectivity that’s out there to help us feel less apart over the holiday. We Skype and we text and we call and we send cards (lots and lots of cards). And while it’s no substitute for being able to put your actual arms around someone, it does help take the edge off.

So even though you may not have every single person you want around your table this week, as long as you can somehow stay connected to the ones who aren’t, that’s as good a reason as any to be thankful, I think.

Happy Thanksgiving, Mom and Dad. Sending 1,200 miles worth of love your way.


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About Lisa Sugarman

Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. She writes the nationally syndicated opinion column It Is What It Is and is the author of How to Raise Perfectly Imperfect Kids and Be Ok with It--Real Tips & Strategies for Parents of Today's Gen Z KidsUntying Parent Anxiety: 18 Myths That Have You in Knots—And How to Get Free, and LIFE: It Is What It Is, available on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, and at select bookstores everywhere. Read and discuss all her columns and books at Or, find them on GrownAndFlown, Thrive Global, Hot Moms Club, LittleThings, MommingHubb, More Content Now, Wickedlocal, This Mama Wines, and Care(dot)com. She's also the founder and moderator of The Vomit Booth, the popular Facebook Group where parents can go to bond, share, and connect over the madness of raising kids in today's world.

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