Today marks the 7th Thanksgiving I’ve spent in England. Aside from my first year here (in 2005, as an exchange student), I’ve managed to eat a turkey-based meal on or around what has become my favourite holiday every year. Whether turkey day is my favourite holiday because I’ve fought to preserve it while domiciled outside my native country or whether it would’ve always been my favourite no matter where I lived, I’m not sure. But what’s not to love about Thanksgiving? It’s in the best season – autumn – when the leaves turn and the weather is cool and crisp (and sometimes delightfully foggy!) and the approaching holidays induce urges to go for long walks bundled up in a coat and scarf, drink hot beverages (tea, coffee, eggnog, mulled wine – you name it, tis the season for it), sit inside reading and/or watching tv/movies, and it feels a sin *not* to stay in bed that little bit longer to shelter from the cold and soak in the extra hours of darkness. And yes, it was by design not coincidence that Mr. O and I opted to get married in the middle of autumn.
Thanksgiving is also brilliant because it’s a day for celebrating with loved ones without all the stress and controversy that Christmas has unfortunately become in modern western society. The food is amazing, too – turkey, stuffing, gravy, veggies, more stuffing, pie, stuffing (last year, the volume of stuffing I cooked was about a 1:1 ratio compared to the size of our turkey – which easily fed 6 adults and provided several days of leftovers. I like stuffing). I know some people get stressed about all the cooking and cleaning, but thankfully I seem to have inherited my mum’s relaxed approach. Part of the reason I loved the holidays (both Thanksgiving and Christmas) as a kid was because I don’t remember any drama in our house growing up. My mum has always really loved the holidays, and throughout the season my parents were never stressed – or at if they were, they never let on about it – about any of the gift buying, decorating, cooking, hosting, who to sit where, etc. It all just happened. It was always delicious, wonderful and joyous and there was never any complaining. It really sets a different tone when the host(ess) is stressed, so I’m lucky to have had the privilege of such perfect memories.
Most of all, Thanksgiving is a great day, because it prompts you to reflect on all the wonderful things in your life without any other pretence. It’s a day for simply acknowledging and being thankful for whatever combination of a higher power and your own hard work that has blessed your life. In that spirit, I have been reflecting on everything I’m thankful for today, including:
– My health. In a year when one of my idols has died from cancer and my childhood care taker has also been diagnosed with (stage IV colon) cancer, I am feeling particularly grateful for my health and wellbeing. Even my mum recently spent a day in the hospital due to a bad case of food poisoning, while I have had little more to deal with this year than a bad cold and the odd headache.
– My marriage. My husband is arguably closer to perfection than I am (despite my trying to convince him otherwise with my regularly suggested ‘improvements’). He is probably much kinder and definitely more patient than I am. Whatever our combination of traits, our relationship really does seem to get better and better over time. I thought the day we got married, I was the most in love I could ever be, but I was completely naïve in that assumption. We have grown so much together – particularly in the last several months – and feel so much more complete and mature, and I know it is likely to carry on in that direction. It’s a cliché, but true to say that not everything is smiles and roses, but we have a system that works and not a day goes by that I don’t have some overwhelming feeling of pure joy at having found my soul mate and knowing that out of all the people in the world, I have found one who loves me as much as I love him and who compliments my skillset perfectly.
– My parents. Like my marriage, my relationship with my parents has gone from strength to strength over time – particularly in my adult years. I often have a thought or behaviour that is very reminiscent of the way my Mum or Dad would do something, and I smile. Some people take great offense to the idea of “turning into their mother”, but I really relish it. My parents are two of the most genuinely happy, kind people I know. They are both amazingly intelligent and hard working and have learned with time how to balance their professional passions with their love for their family (particularly their kids and grandkids) and their personal interests (like travelling). 33 years after having first met, they are also one of the most happy, devoted and loving couples I’ve ever encountered. They’re both pretty spectacular people, and if in 27 years, Mark and I are half as happy and successful, we’ll be doing pretty well.
– My home. To be fair, I was pretty spoiled when it comes to shelter growing up. We always lived in beautiful, spacious homes in lovely neighbourhoods. I’m thankful to have made our flat equally as lovely with a bit of patience and hard work. While not nearly as large as my childhood homes, I actually quite enjoy our flat and can’t ever imagine living in a huge place again. I do occasionally wish for more entertaining space (specifically a dining area), but I really do love our home. The size keeps things simple, too, and encourages us to only buy and keep things we love and that enhance our lives rather than amassing an endless stream of ‘stuff’ that does no more than fill empty spaces. I’m really hoping we can maintain that mentality in the future when we live in the US, have kids, etc. We’re also quite lucky to live in such a community-oriented part of London, which also benefits from lots of historic character (cobbled streets, renovated warehouses, etc.) and river views. It definitely makes for a very pleasant early morning run or post-work evening walk.
– My financial situation. I know money is typically a taboo topic, but it would be completely disingenuous to not acknowledge how lucky and thankful I am for what a good situation Mark and I are in. We’re not rich by any means, but we do live a pretty comfortable life and don’t have financial worries. While so much of the world is worried about the recession and job market, we generally have not been affected in any sort of adverse way. Yes, that is partly by design (we are careful planners with lots of spreadsheets and who monitor our spending closely and strategize what to do with the surplus we create). It would be a total lie not to acknowledge that a lot of our good fortune is also down to sheer luck. I know things can always change, but right now, I’m happy that we can make our decisions based on desires and personal interest rather than need, lack of alternative options or lack of funds.
– My personal growth. In the last year, I’ve changed – kind of. I’ve not become a different person, but rather have been happy to embrace who I am. I’m gradually moving away from feeling pressure of what I “should” do to what I “want” to do. I have been increasingly honest with myself about what I do and don’t like about myself. I’m also being more brutally honest about other things in my life (both people and products), and that sort of clarity has helped me to be happier, more confident and fairly stress free. I’ve not got all the answers, and sometimes I still do things out of obligation rather than personal interest, but I feel like I am continually growing, finding myself and moving toward a blissful existence. This definitely wouldn’t have happened without everything else I’m thankful for (my husband, my parents, etc), but I am glad that all of those are coming together to make me a more intrinsically happy person who wants to develop herself and approach life and the world in general with open eyes rather than sitting back, focusing on and complaining about things that go wrong, and vilifying the system because of some perceived injustice.
I’m sure there’s loads more I should be thankful for, but that’s everything at the forefront of my mind now. I hope all my friends and loved ones – American or not – are taking a break today to think about all the things they are thankful for.