Thanksgiving has never been a very meaningful holiday for me. As a kid my Mom never made turkey since we weren't American. All the years living in the US as a kid I remember a handful of times that we would go to a friend's house, but more often than not we'd just stay home and have a regular dinner, which was fine with me since I don't like most of the Thanksgiving food anyway.
For my husband it is a more meaningful holiday. For a long time, it was the one day out of the year that his parents would actually cook and they did a more Southern style spread. They have the tradition that before we start eating everyone says what they are thankful for, which is probably a common tradition but a nice one. In the years since college we've been adopted by friends and families again as my husband's schedule usually did not afford him enough time to fly home.
There was one Thanksgiving where my husband had to work. I never told other people that I was going to be alone. Instead I had a very peaceful day at home by myself. In the afternoon I walked along Michigan Avenue looking at the store displays and started to mentally put together my Christmas lists. No I was not preparing for Black Friday madness. I usually avoid the malls at all costs until that first crazy weekend has passed.
The past few years we've been invited to my husband's partners house. Their kids are a bit older than ours but some of the cousins are our kids' ages so everyone has fun, and after all these years we know the whole family pretty well. They do the traditional meal plus the deepfried bird which is delicious.
This year we all flew to my sister's house. It was the first time we had gotten everyone together in about 5 years. She has been cooking the full spread every year for years. She enjoys cooking and did almost all the cooking herself. I did make an apple crisp and gave each of the kids a task to do to help me. Earlier in the day my sister had been shooing the kids out of the kitchen as most are not old enough to help, and we wanted to keep my little guy far from the hot oven. I think they all enjoyed helping me, and when they finally got to eat some I told them it was thanks to their help it turned out as well as it did.
The thing about Thanksgiving is that the meal itself is such a lot of work to put together and even with the snacking all day, it always seems like the actual meal is almost anticlimatic. I mean, you cook all day and then eat the formal meal in about 30 minutes. Maybe it is supposed to be that way. I guess the true meaning of Thanksgiving is to be thankful and to enjoy the company of the people you are with. Every year I try to get myself to get more into the spirit of it, but so far it hasn't happened. Having said that I do have a lot to be thankful for and need to spend more time focusing on that in general. I had a friend who for about 2 weeks leading up to Thanksgiving posted things/people she was thankful for. It wasn't every day, but each post was well thought out, well written and quite touching.
I'm not going to go in to a long list of my own, but am definitely thankful that we finally got everyone in my family together for the first time in 5 years. The kids really enjoyed spending a week getting to know their cousins and are already asking when we can see them again. From what my sister told me, the feelings were mutual from her kids.
I am thankful for my health and the fact that my children are healthy. I realize how lucky we are that all our kids are healthy, and as a sidenote am happy to say that the little boy with leukemia I know is home from the hospital and getting stronger every day.
When dinner was finally ready I went in to take a picture of the kids at the kids table and asked them what they were thankful for. Some of the answers I got - family, friends, food, cheese, Obama, bologna :)
I think for me Thanksgiving is mostly a milestone before Christmas. I get annoyed at the stores who decorate and turn on the Christmas music before Thanksgiving. Once Thanksgiving is over we start decorating our house. We don't get our tree until closer to Christmas, but everything else goes up November 30th at the latest.