It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving a few years ago when I knew things had to change. I was dreading going back to work the following day — not because I didn’t like my job, but because I was completely exhausted.
My husband and I both have blended families and, as a result, had gone to three Thanksgiving dinners that weekend. One was a large family affair out of state and two were small (back-to-back) events just 20 minutes away. All of them, on their own, were lovely. But together, it was too much.
I always loved that Thanksgiving didn’t come with the pressure of finding the perfect gift or worrying about the right amount to spend. It was simply about enjoying quality time with the people we loved. But the more we spent the holiday weekend running around, the less quality the time began to feel. We were always rushing, watching the clock to make sure we wouldn’t be late to the next event, not truly giving anyone our time or full attention. A holiday that had been my favorite had become one that I was struggling to enjoy.
Last year when my husband and I started talking about the holidays, I admittedly felt a bit of dread, followed by guilt for feeling that dread. We love our families but quickly agreed that our favorite Thanksgiving together was the time we had bucked tradition and gone to visit friends in Michigan.
The year we went to Michigan for Thanksgiving, we only went to one place — our friends’ apartment. It was just four of us, and we had a simple, but delicious, meal together. We enjoyed three full days without checking our watches or wondering how early we needed to leave to avoid traffic. We truly connected with them and I left energized, thankful for the experience, and appreciative of the wonderful friends we have in our life. It was everything Thanksgiving is supposed to be.
We considered how to recreate this and decided that we would likely find the same joy in getting away as a family (we now had our daughter). So, I searched for affordable vacation packages, and two months later, we landed in Germany on Thanksgiving.
While our flight that day was smooth, telling our families felt less so. They all knew and understood our long-standing love for travel, but there was obvious disappointment that they wouldn’t get to see us or our daughter for the holiday. We held strong, though, and worked through this by making alternate plans. No, we wouldn’t be home for Thanksgiving, but we would find a different day to spend special time together. Setting time aside on the calendar to just be together without the pressure of someone cooking an elaborate meal or coordinating the schedules of several families who were hopping between houses meant that we would be able to truly enjoy each other’s company.
While in Germany, we spent a week traveling through the southwestern region of the country enjoying new sights, sounds, and foods. I didn’t rush or worry about disappointing others by only being able to stay for just a few hours. I didn’t feel defeated when our timing was off and we weren’t able to cross paths with others who were holiday hopping, as well. While I came home tired, it wasn’t from a whirlwind weekend of “just a few hours” here and there, it was from laughing and exploring (and quite frankly, jet lag). When all was said and done, we were hooked and agreed that, while our destination may change, taking this time away will be something we do each year.
Breaking away from traditions that we once loved, but that just didn’t fit anymore, was tough but gave us freedom to truly appreciate the holidays for what they were — a time for gratitude, reflection, and love. While at times I miss the merriment of being at a large family gathering, I find even more joy in what temporarily becomes our “everyday” while we’re on vacation. My husband, who’s a major foodie, smiles each time he scans the menu of a local restaurant, deciding what to try first. My daughter’s eyes grow large as she points to the lights of a new city and says, “Mommy, look at that!” And my own heart feels fuller as I sit in awe of the blessing I’ve been given to disconnect and intentionally spend this time growing together with my own little family.