Don’t Let Self-Pity Swallow Your Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. As a child, I remember going to my Aunt’s house in Florida and seeing that veritable feast spread all over her countertops while the turkey finished cooking. My mom, my aunt and my grandma chit-chatted and laughed over old stories. We kids snacked on the pickle tray and hot crab dip and the men watched football, unless the parade was still on.

One or two of the years, when my family lived in Connecticut, we even travelled into New York City to see the parade, meeting up with New York and New Jersey family members on the sidewalks where we saw ginormous balloons and musical floats travel down those wide city streets, followed by a feast which only a real Italian can fathom.

In college and as a newly married woman, I loved making a turkey and agonizing over the perfect stuffing or a special homemade salad dressing. One or two years, I may have needed to adjust my expectations as we ate Tex-Mex fare off styrofoam cafeteria trays while everyone sat in different parts of the house and the men hurriedly left for their hunting trip. But even then, there was still a hint of that Thanksgiving feeling that I so loved.

It seemed no matter what part of the country, child or adult, married or single, Thanksgiving was always amazing, always my favorite day of the year. In my imagination, it was a pure holiday. No commercialism, no trappings. No need for gifts or undue expense. No over-decorating—just family, a good meal, maybe a parade, some board games, a hike in the woods, a ball game, and catching up over pie. There was a warmth in the air, fabulous smells, laughter, and kindness. And, I thought nothing could ruin it.

As the years went on, we created our own family traditions. We always hosted and invited everyone we could think of to join us for the day. It was one day of the year that I especially loved a full house! We’d invite single adults from church, people with no local family, friends, even the occasional homeless person my husband had met…all were welcome at our table.

The smells of turkey and stuffing, candles flickering on the tables, tiny pumpkins casually displayed atop the clean table linens, all meant a celebration was the order of the day.

We’d serve ourselves and our children buffet style. The kids would mostly eat rolls. We’d overfill our plates – and there would be laughter, smiles, prayer, thanks giving, and joy all around.

Yes, Thanksgiving was always a wonderful day. Until it wasn’t.

That year, my husband hadn’t worked in months. We had quite a few unexpected and expensive repairs needed at home. Our oven was even broken. Just two days before the grand day, I realized I had no means to buy a turkey, let alone roast it.

Disappointed and defeated, I decided that we’d just cancel the whole holiday.

The kids were understandably disappointed as well. But all I could see was how my idea of Thanksgiving was crushed under an empty checking account.

Being a blended family, we offered to let our older children visit their other respective parents. I thought I was being generous as I sunk deeper into despair. They all jumped at the chance to have a Thanksgiving – somewhere.

And then, as I loaded kids into the car to drop them off, it began to sink in.

What had I done? I had just agreed to cancel my favorite holiday. Worse yet, I was sending my kids away.

thanksgiving isn't about the turkey, you can be thankfulI’d let silly trappings and commercialism ideals defeat me. I’d lost sight of the blessings of a table full of my people because I was too focused on filling it with the right dishes.

While I had prided myself on the fact Thanksgiving lacked the trappings of materialistic American holidays, I had made the very trappings my focus and I lost sight of the beauty of the day itself.

Sure there would be no turkey that day, but even worse, there was no Rebekah, Elisabeth or Joseph. While I got swept up in self-pity for lacking an overstuffed bird, I missed the whole point!

I was depressed the whole day before Thanksgiving. I didn’t even want to get out of bed. How did things get this bad? How did we get so broke? Why is God allowing this? How is it possible I had to cancel Thanksgiving? Why is this happening to me?

And as I lay there, wallowing – yes really wallowing – I realized we could still have mashed potatoes. Then I remembered, I could make chicken gravy with some broth I’d canned. We had a couple cans of corn too. We even had two chicken breasts.

Our bank account was depleted, but I asked my husband to grab a can of cranberry sauce at the store. I made a crustless pumpkin pie in the crockpot with a can of pumpkin I’d had lying around, and then we finished it off with waffles topped with apple pie filling, canned from an amazing surprise apple harvest a year earlier.

All of a sudden, as I prayed, God pulled me out of self-pity mode. He showed me how much I still had to be thankful for! Sure, it wasn’t turkey. Sadly, it wasn’t even our whole family. Three of our kids were now gone, thanks to my self-pity. We didn’t have pie. We may not have had stuffing, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole and salad. …but we did have plenty to be thankful for.

It was never about the turkey anyway!

Holidays can be really hard, but don't be like me. Don't let self-pity ruin your Thanksgiving holidayThanksgiving is about thanking God for His blessings – for family, for His provision, for a home, for the couple cans of corn and some canned apple pie filling from that old apple tree up the road.

It turns out we had a lot to be thankful for actually. Certainly not my bad choices – for my self-pity, I needed to repent – but I had a lot to thank God for that day.

I tell this story, literally wincing at my own immaturity, foolishness, and pride. However, no matter how humiliating it is, both to admit how bad it was and how foolish I was, I know there are others out there experiencing the same thing.

I know how holidays can shine a spotlight on what we lack, as opposed to what we have. This is especially true when our holiday plans don’t live up to our neighbors’ plans, when they don’t live up to own expectations, or even when they don’t live up to our own lovingly crafted traditions.

holidays can shine a spotlight on what we lack, as opposed to what we have. Click To Tweet

Holidays can mean so much that it’s easy to lose sight of what really matters. We can all be guilty of placing crazy expectations on these days for ourselves and for others. I know how easy it is to forget to be thankful for all we really do have – and I know how easy it is to let self-pity swallow up thanksgiving – not just the day – but the actual act of giving thanks.

As this blessed holiday approaches, let’s all try to remember that Thanksgiving isn’t about a turkey. It isn’t about the plates or the parade or the side dishes we’ve always had. It isn’t about tradition. And it isn’t even about the people we share it with, although that can be hard to swallow.

It's easy to let self-pity swallow thanksgiving – not just the day – but the giving of thanks Click To Tweet

Thanksgiving is about a heart attitude of humility, of gratitude, of surrendering to the One who we owe all Thankfulness.

I hope you’ll join me this year in remembering what Thanksgiving is really about — and choosing a thankful heart over anything else.


Recipes for a Frugal, Throw-Together Thanksgiving

Crustless Pumpkin Pie

Easy Chicken Broth Gravy

Homemade Waffles from the Pioneer Woman

Apple Pie Topping for the Waffles




1 Comment
  1. Mike Cole says

    Probably about 99% of unhappiness and lack of joy come from unthankfulness. Sure there are times of mourning at the loss of loved ones etc. which are not joyful. But the rest are tied to unthankfulness.
    Honestly, since leaving the warm confines of the “clergy” I have learned so much more about thankfulness. Funny thing how need brings true understanding of things like this. But really it makes perfect sense.
    Right now for instance my knee is messing up pretty bad, and I do physical labor. I’m praying through each work day. My ear is really messed up too. No money or insurance to cover these things. Our roof on our house is shot. I have tarps covering holes and rotted wood. Brakes are shot on our car, so much so that u can’t drive it. And the list goes on.
    But we are joyful and our family life is great!
    The car, roof and other stuff will get fixed eventually or it won’t. Has no bearing on joy or eternity.
    Nice article u wrote here!

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