Silver City: With Grands and Kids, Celebrating Thanksgiving Can Be Tricky


Starting Wednesday, Nov. 24, and for the next five days or so, most everyone in the United States is about to navigate the most unique American holiday of all: Thanksgiving.

It began in our colonial period, was proclaimed as a national celebration by President George Washington on Oct. 3, 1789, and the fourth Thursday of November was made a national holiday by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It is uniquely uncommercialized despite the best efforts of card companies and grocery retailers. It is non-denominational and uniquely multicultural, while its origins with American Indians is sometimes lightly touched upon.

There is no doubt that the spirit of thankfulness is the main idea of Thanksgiving. That is the reason many in the U.S. – native and foreign born — say that Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday. Its message of being grateful is so simple. So unfraught.

It’s also a uniquely family holiday. A time of sharing with family members and those alone.

That image of Thanksgiving is depicted in one iconic illustration by American artist Norman Rockwell: The Thanksgiving picture “Freedom From Want” – the third of the Four Freedoms oil paintings, inspired by President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union address known as Four Freedoms. The illustration shows a multigenerational family gathered around a Thanksgiving table when the large roasted golden turkey is brought in. Everyone is happy and content.

The image has expanded to represent a time when younger members of the family gather at their family home to share traditional dishes, hear family stories, admire heirlooms. A time where the foodies in the family share recipes and the sports fans enjoy a somnolent evening of televised matches and extra pieces of pie, goofy family games and jokes and exuberant over-sugared kids. Rockwell’s painting depicts the way many generations of Americans expect Thanksgiving to be (except if painted today, the family would undoubtedly be shown as multiethnic as well).

Of course, the reality of Thanksgiving has always been different. Especially for grandparents. For many grands, the whole experience of joyous grandparenting is a bit of a shock from the moment the adorable ones are born.

First and foremost, all those dreams of  having a do-over, to spend time with, spoil a bit, teach and inspire your grandchildren, your descendants is suddenly met with one can-be harsh reality: there is a whole other set of grandparents and family who feel the same way. About your grandchildren. You have to share and often that means not being included in every family gathering — especially not the paternal family – including the four-day holiday of Thanksgiving.

Times have changed as well. These days even close families do not live near each other: parents, siblings, grandparents and grandchildren – not to speak of aunts, uncles and beloved old friends — no longer live in the same town or state nor even the same country. Many don’t speak the same language (and we’re not just talking politics here). Marriages are split – a grandparents’ grandchildren may have multiple step-parents and step-siblings all with family members who want to bond with them, have them carry on their traditions.

Decreased mobility of grands, increasing difficulty to travel for everyone, growing independence and distancing of especially teenage grandchildren especially during the pandemic has split family communication and bonds even more. The demands from so many deserving family members especially grands can become so fraught for a couple that many decide “just to do it alone this year dear.” But the proposed Zoom call doesn’t really satisfy.

Obviously, the expectations of Thanksgiving as a joyous and grateful family gathering need to be dialed down – way down in these times. Everyone has to make the effort at finding a fair way to share time with each other and especially the small grandchildren and their parents among all the competing parties. Ways to include everyone can be organized or designated times for separate family gatherings can be agreed upon.

But obviously the focus of Thanksgiving needs to go back to the celebrating, acknowledging and being truly thankful and grateful for the good things in your life, despite the bad things going on now. That includes being happy for the privilege of having children and grandchildren, some good friends and memories of happy times.

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