On my trip to the mall this weekend, I noticed something as I strolled along, casually making my way from store to store. Directly in the center of the mall, I spotted a giant castle. This, naturally, grabbed my attention and surfaced the inner child in me, and I annoyingly nagged my friends to go over and see what this castle was all about. But then I noticed something else when we neared the magnificent palace with sparkly white walls and diamond blue cones covering the roof—a small little sign hanging over the ruby red double-doors that read, “The North Pole.”

I circled around to the other side of the castle and saw some workers setting up Santa’s chair, along with some scattered Christmas trees and peppermint walkways leading up to the entrance. My friends and I looked at each other, deeming it a little odd that Greenville was already preparing for Santa’s visit, which was over a month away.
This angers me a little bit, not to say I don’t enjoy Christmas, but mostly because people seem to grow anxious awaiting Christmas and wrapped up in preparing for it that they, in turn, skip over a pretty good, and my personal favorite, holiday at the end of November—Thanksgiving.

When I think about Thanksgiving, I think about home. I think about family, and I think about friends, and I think about the party we always have and of course, certainly, I think about food. So when I realized that I’d be returning to Wildwood sooner than I thought at the beginning of next week to share in the holiday festivities, needless to say I was excited.

Growing up I always looked forward to Thanksgiving Day, mostly because I knew what it entailed of—my family. We’ve been doing to same thing repeatedly every year since I was little. And that, for me, is the best part—the tradition.

Thanksgiving days at home are quite nice. The weather is normally cool, but not too chilly to the point where you can’t go outside without a jacket. The trees are normally orange and the leaves are falling, and the atmosphere is usually serene. Everything seems so peaceful. But this calm usually only lasts until approximately 1 o’clock in the afternoon, when it’s time to hop in the car and head on over to my aunt and uncle’s offshore for Thanksgiving dinner.

Every year I always imagine walking into their house when we first arrive because it’s always the same. My brothers and parents and I all straggle out of the car carrying pots and pans of a little bit of everything my mom spent feverously preparing the day before for our meal (she has a pretty solid reputation for her marshmallow sweet potatoes). It’s a hassle really, carting everything over there. But then we open the door, and we’re greeted by people—people we haven’t seen since maybe last year. People that hurriedly take everything out of our arms to help us and then set it down on the counter before embracing us. And then it’s all worth it.

And I’m not talking about just a few people. I’m talking about a crowd of 60, maybe more, all gathered together, spilling stories and sharing conversations with one another over the 12 turkeys my uncle usually cooks, along with the other gourmet foods everyone brought set out on the counter buffet style.

We stay there hours after dinner, usually all night. We go back for seconds, sometimes thirds. We gather at the two dining hall sized tables in the kitchen and play Trivial Pursuit and Rummikub, while we make cold sandwiches from the leftover turkey. And there are always leftovers.

But last Thanksgiving night was a little different. We added something new to our tradition. While we were all seated and gathered, my uncle called everyone together and brought the room down to a dull murmur before we ate. He picked up a jar sitting on the counter nearby and set it down in the middle of the table. Throughout the course of the night, that jar became filled with paper slips—slips that contained the things that everyone was thankful for that year—slips that we had to fill out when we first arrived. But of course, we all forgot about this and were in no way prepared for our thanks to be read aloud.

So we sat for a half hour and read every single slip. And the things people were thankful for varied on a wide scale: toys, food, money, success, good health, a good year ahead, etc. But a lot of them had one repeated theme—one thing that most people were thankful for, and that was family. And friends. And being together. Because to us, that’s what really matters, not just during Thanksgiving, but all the time.

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