“A Season of Thanks … and Change,” Nov. 17, 2015

Holiday traditions are like the people who keep them. Over time, they change. They aren’t perfect, nor do they need to be. They simply reflect who we are.

Every year in November, I try to remember all the countless details of doing Thanksgiving dinner for a big, growing crowd of family and friends. I’ve done it so many times it should be second nature. But I always seem to forget a few little things like the number of guests, their favorite dishes and exactly which end of the turkey am I supposed to stuff?

I didn’t say I was good at it. I just said I’ve done it so often it should be second nature. But the very nature of life _ yours, I suspect, as well as mine _ seems to be constant change.

This Thanksgiving will be different. I’m not doing a turkey. Or the stuffing. Or anything. And none of my guests are bringing a dish, either. Well, unless they really want to.

What’s my secret? I probably shouldn’t admit it, but here it is: I’m buying it all from a market, fully cooked and ready to eat.

If that sounds tacky, so be it.

The thought of a store-bought Thanksgiving dinner is probably enough to make millions of traditionalists choke on their drumsticks. But I decided not to cook this time for the best possible reason: I don’t want to.

I don’t want to spend a week planning, shopping, prepping, cooking and cleaning up. No matter how much everyone pitches in (they always do and I appreciate it) I still end up overseeing it all. I’d rather spend the time just being with those people. Or sleeping. Besides, my cooking is not all that great. Nobody will miss it. They’ll probably be thrilled.

That said, there are two Thanksgiving traditions that I will keep. First, I’ll make a list of all the things for which I am truly thankful, such as:

1. Being alive. I’ve lost enough loved ones to know life’s a gift. I will never take it for granted.
2. Having enough. Some people eat Thanksgiving dinner in a homeless shelter or not at all. My family and I are blessed.
3. Knowing heartache as well as joy. One gives meaning to the other. I try to remember to be thankful for both.
4. Having a job that allows and requires me to do what I love. I rarely write without a deadline. Luckily, with my job, deadlines loom large every week.
5. Hearing from readers who say my stories are their stories, too. They help me remember that in the everyday, ordinary matters of the heart, we are all far more alike than different.
6. Friends who know I mean well, really, no matter how long I take to return their calls.
7. Children and children-in-law whom I love with a mother’s love, brag about shamelessly and hope to count on to speak well of me when I’m gone.
8. Grandchildren who light me up, give me reason to get out of bed and continually reaffirm my belief in the goodness of God.
9. A husband who might not always be adorable, but is adored none the less by our children and grandchildren and most especially by his wife.
10. Birds that sing outside my window. Mountains shining in the distance. Flowers that bloom in spite of me. A sun that rises and sets each day whispering in my ear that life is beautiful; it persists and somehow so will I.

The second tradition I’ll keep this Thanksgiving is simple. I will set, not one table, but two: One, in a borrowed house on the coast of California, for all the family and friends who will gather with us this year. And the other, in my heart, for those who’ll be present in spirit only, living or long departed, but never forgotten. I’ll set a place at that table for you, too.

Home cooked or store bought, served on fine china or a paper plate, surrounded by loved ones or all alone, traditions taste better seasoned with gratitude.

Here’s wishing you and yours, from me and mine, your most thankful Thanksgiving ever.


  1. Anne Wheelis says

    Hi Sharon,

    I’m “binge reading” to catch up on your inspired writing and life. Occasionally in recent years I have taken glad help from stores for Thanksgiving. This year we picked up dinner in Salinas for dinner there with our daughter. We each made extras, with the result that we bought the main meal but still managed to mess up two kitchens!

    Wishing for many good Thanksgivings to come.

  2. wish you and all family happy thanks giving ! Lot of love .

  3. Happy thanks giving Sharon to you and all family!

  4. Barbara Mitchell says

    When I got out of church this morning, I had a text from my niece and best friend, Theresa Kelley, with a message to read your article about Thanksgiving. I love the article! I came from a big family of seven siblings, but with the passing of my parents years ago, two brothers, and just this year a sister in April & a sister in September, just three of us remaining, it leaves us this year with not anywhere to go Thanksgiving or Christmas. But I still have great memories. I will do as you said, I plan on having Cracker Barrel at my house Thanksgiving! STILL SO MUCH TO BE THANKFUL FOR, God, my only child and only grandchild and family. I plan on sitting down and list the many, many things I am thankful for. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Have a Blessed Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Holidays!

  5. Kate Sciacca says

    A blessed and happy Thanksgiving to you and your dear and growing family ? I have not hosted Thanksgiving since we left the Bay and headed for northern (the REAL) Nevada ?. My kids fight over who will host, which is fine by me ?.

    Had to laugh at your #7…. I always tell the kids to “say something nice about your mama at her funeral… LIE if you must!” ?
    And I am most Thankful for you sharing your gifts and talents with us…. ?

  6. Thank you for sharing yr talents and life!

  7. I love your idea of “buying’ your turkey dinner this year. It’s a wonderful idea, and you will have more time to visit with loved ones. The past few years, our traditions have changed too. My hubby and I had dinner here…always!!! But now my daughter (our only daughter) wants to have it at her house. Some mothers might be unhappy by this, but not me! If I do not have to clean, so be it. (*_*) Patti has us go around and say ‘what’ we are thankful for. I always enjoy that…although I never thought to do it myself. When you are asked to give ONE thing you are thankful for, it makes this old Grandma think. One year I chose “forgiveness” and I do like that one. But that’s not the only thing I am thankful for, as I have been blessed over and over. God Bless you this Thanksgiving! Enjoy your “newest” tradition.

  8. Susan Kovarick says

    Once again you entered my psyche…store bought Thanksgiving a first. I needed your other insights and give thanks for that. Happy Life to you.

  9. I’m finally learning to accept #3 on your list–being thankful for both joy and heartache. While I never look forward to heartache, in hindsight I can see that it draws me closer to God. And that’s always a good place to be! I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving embracing both your new traditions and your loved ones!

  10. Hi Sharon,
    Happy Thanksgiving to you and all those you love. God bless you. Loved your column as always.

  11. And you remind me of another reason to be thankful: I’m thankful for you who continues to remind me of what is important in our lives and how simple it can be to give the truly important things the priority they deserve. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

  12. Sharon, you continue to explain family to me. As I get older I find your columns like peeling back the layers of an onion. Tears flow freely. The thought, ‘If only’, permeates lost opportunities. You continue to remind me of what I missed.


  13. Sharon,
    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family! Your thoughtful column is a hearty Amen! to all that I am thankful for as well, paper plates and all.
    Continued blessings,
    Bruce (and Neva, too!)

  14. Chuck and Jonna says

    Hi Sharon,

    We did the same thing, this year. For years we did as you around holidays. There is wisdom in age. We couldn’t buy the ingredients for what we paid for the dinner. Then there’s the prep, hours of cooking, hours of cleaning up.
    No, its as you say. Having time for family and friends is far more important.
    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

  15. Sharon,

    Once again I can so relate to everything you have said & I feel EXACTLY the same way! Who cares if your eating off fine china, paper plates, home cooked or store bought, enjoy the time with your loved ones & give Thanks for the MANY blessings we have been given.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families!

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