We could look at the first real Thanksgiving, when Native Americans and English Puritans ate venison, corn, and shellfish for three days. Nice.
Instead, we’re talking about your various first Thanksgivings. The memorable ones that still warm your heart — or the gray November Thursdays that were an unmitigated disaster.
All those firsts add up to what Thanksgiving means to you.
The first Thanksgiving in memory.
I was the youngest of six kids, seated around our long, oval table with the center leaf added to make room for my brother’s wife, who was expecting. I was four, so the memories are hazy, but I’m sure that was the year I discovered my fondness for turkey legs.
What was your first Thanksgiving like?
Noisy, crowded? Quiet, cozy? Was your mom crying because the turkey wasn’t done until 8:30? Did your brother toss rolls at you butter side up? Did they make you eat pumpkin pie, insisting a dessert made of squash would eventually grow on you?
The first Thanksgiving after moving out.
I woke up in my efficiency apartment decorated in early Salvation Army, eager for a visit home to see my family and eat all the food I could no longer afford. I didn’t take a single covered dish. I was clueless. But they were happy to see me. Only my oldest brother noticed I was stoned. I was nineteen.
What happened the first time you went back home for Thanksgiving?
Did the house look utterly familiar yet strangely different? Was the menu the same, or did rogue vegetable dishes appear in the kitchen? Were your sisters (brothers, cousins, somebody) picking on each other constantly? Next year will be better. That’s what we tell ourselves. Hope is a good thing.
The first Thanksgiving alone.
In my early twenties, working six days a week in faraway Detroit, I couldn’t get home to eastern Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving. So, I did the drive-thru at McDonald’s. Yes, really. Told myself it was just another Thursday. Didn’t believe it for one Detroit minute.
Have you spent a Thanksgiving by yourself?
It can be a real character-building exercise. Smart people do things for others and genuinely give thanks for their many blessings. I’ll bet that’s your story. Sadly, it wasn’t mine. Not yet.
The first Thanksgiving at someone else’s house.
Lots of memories here, all good. The stuffing wasn’t like Mom’s sage dressing, and I didn’t know all the family jokes. Still, they hugged me, fed me, and sent me home with leftover turkey and cranberry relish. I was genuinely grateful. A start.
Has someone invited you to join them for Thanksgiving?
Friends? Coworkers? How did that go? Is there one dish you take everywhere (mine is cabbage-apple-raisin slaw). What made you glad you went? Do you ever invite strays to your table on Turkey Day?
Your first Thanksgiving with a spouse.
Negotiations began in August. If we go to this in-laws’ house on Thanksgiving, we’ll visit the other in-laws for Christmas. Bill and I got engaged on Thanksgiving at his parents’ house, and then the following Thanksgiving discovered I was pregnant with their first grandchild. We earned enough brownie points to cover us for thirty years.
If you are or have been married, what was your first Thanksgiving together like?
Did you cry when the turkey wasn’t done — wait, that was your mom. How did your list of favorite dishes mesh with your spouse’s? Was it romantic? Funny? A bust? Maybe it’s a good thing a marriage has only one first Thanksgiving.
Your first Thanksgiving with a baby in the house.
Sorry, don’t remember. It happened. The food was edible. The baby wore most of it.
Maybe your memory is more dependable.
If you had a baby join you at the big people’s table in a highchair, was she wearing a “My First Thanksgiving” bib? Did he chase peas around his tray? Did she fling mashed potatoes from the end of her spoon? Did you video the child’s shenanigans for blackmail purposes later?
A first Thanksgiving with God.
I was 27, unmarried, and uncertain about a God who said He loved me. But the friends who invited me to sit at their table loved Him dearly and assured me He loved them — and me. This simple truth remains more filling than any Thanksgiving feast ever served, from 1621 to now.
Do you remember your first Thanksgiving as a believer?
If you’ve known God since childhood, maybe this is the year to put Him at the head of the table. If you’ve met Him recently, how might this year be different for you? And if you’ve wondered where He’s gone, why He’s not more present to you, or how you can restore a relationship with Someone you can’t touch or see, this is the year.
Make God welcome in your home. Open His Word at your table. Light the candles with His name on your lips. And pray like He’s listening. Because He is.