Thanksgiving: A holiday glow up


A slice of sweet potato pie is served on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff file photo

Sarah Michels

I used to abhor Thanksgiving. 

For a holiday marketed as some fantastic feast, I couldn’t fathom why turkey was the star of the show. I personally preferred ham, and I could never understand why anyone would feel differently. 

The sides didn’t impress me either; as a picky eater, I wouldn’t willingly touch anything but the rolls and the macaroni and cheese. Unfortunately, my family tended to frown upon that, forcing me to at least pretend to eat a vegetable. 

Tragically, they also frowned upon fun. Typically, my siblings, cousins and I spent hours on Thanksgiving bored out of our minds in some empty dance hall we’d rented to fit our entire extended family, second and third cousins included. 

One such year in the infamous dance hall, with hours to go and not a toy or game in sight, we discovered our saving grace — a disco ball in a back room. If we had to endure this monotonous dance hall, we could at least be dancing. 

The disco party lasted upwards of five minutes before someone complained, shutting the music off and the lights back on. Banned from screen time, second helpings of dessert and now, dancing, us kids retreated to our corner, staring at each other with defeated looks in our eyes. If the gossiping adults noticed our agony, they paid it no mind. 

An eternity later, our parents finally said their goodbyes, and we breathed a sigh of relief, truly thankful for the first time all day. 

To be fair, even if it weren’t for my personal experiences with Thanksgiving, Halloween is a tough act to follow. When I was younger, no turkey could ever compare to a magical night spent breaking all the normal rules — taking free candy from strangers, dressing up in costume outside the house and staying up hours past bedtime to experience a for-once-encouraged sugar rush. 

But now I make my own rules, and I don’t have to wait until Oct. 31 to break them. As the magic of Halloween has faded, the appeal of Thanksgiving has taken its place. 

Now, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, partially because our family finally ditched the dance hall, and I’ve joined the turkey fanbase, but more so because I place a higher premium on family. 

In middle school and high school, parents were more like rule enforcers than friends, and relatives were constantly around. Spending another day with them on Thanksgiving didn’t seem like anything special. But after going off to college, that dynamic changed. 

My hometown is only an hour or so away, but between academic work and extracurriculars, I rarely have time to stop by. I’ve spent my college summers interning instead of attending the semi-annual summer family vacations, so I only see my relatives on major holidays. 

Thanksgiving is one of the few times to catch up and reminisce with my relatives while watching my younger cousins grow up before my eyes.

Thanksgiving has a troubled history that should be acknowledged. It began as a farce, a manipulation of Native Americans by settlers who would soon employ genocidal violence to claim their declared Manifest Destiny over the natives’ lands. But I don’t think that negates what it has become — a day spent expressing gratitude for our loved ones and blessings, revitalized by good food and better company. 

Perhaps the solution is not to dismiss the holiday’s rotten foundations but to take a few moments this Thanksgiving to recognize these less-than-wholesome origins. Maybe we can even devote some of our Christmas gift money to support indigenous groups that still encounter discrimination today. Although our nation has certainly not completed its redemption arc, we can still give thanks for the progress we have made since as well as the people working toward progress still to come. 

While my disappointed post-disco-ball-disaster younger self would never believe it, in time, something good can indeed come from something bad.