Our family has a rich tradition. Invite anyone you know who doesn't have a place to go for Thanksgiving. It started in 2005. I was asked about it during our large gathering for Thanksgiving this year (we had 32). We are just a family with three children, one of whom who has a spouse and a child. One of this year's guests, a second-year attendee, asked, "So how long you been doing this?" I retorted, "Doing what?" He said, "When you invite people who don't have a place to go." Gosh, I had to think about it. Because I never really thought it was a "thing." It just happened organically. Second-year attendee Matt said it was intimidating the first year he came. He came with my niece Kristen. They really hadn't been dating that long and then he got dragged to her crazy family's holiday meal. We're a loud bunch, too. But the deal is, we have many who are first-timers who must feel the same way.
I answered him, "Let me think." I started hosting Thanksgiving in 2002 after my mother-in-law had been diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a daunting task. She had the best foods and best desserts and always a warm host. I didn't have much for serving dishes, but I threw things together that year, and it all worked out fine. Sadly, she passed away in 2004 a week before that Thanksgiving. We were heartbroken but powered through because that is what she would have wanted. We only had a table-full then. Maybe eight. Not even a kids' table was needed. We all were at my dining room table. That was it. Eight. Then the next year, we started volunteering with a ministry to low-income families near Little Rock Central High School. It was called Love Truth Care ministries, and we started having the kids we met in the after-care program to our home every weekend. My daughter was 13 and told us she found her life's calling. And she did. She committed her life and education to teach and serve the poor. At her young age, she would beg for us to allow the kids at LTCare to come home with us. So every weekend, Vanilla, Unique, Keshawn, Karlin, you name it, got to spend Saturday with us. We'd go get them, bring them to play with us and then take them home. We often bought them a meal and sent it home with them. So when Thanksgiving rolled around in 2005, we had our first gathering of new faces. In fact, it was Keshawn, Karlin, Iesha and Destiny who came. We loved having them! We returned them with their grandmother who was raising them late Thanksgiving night. We were sad to pull away to go home without them. Then Keshawn and Karlin kept coming regularly and finally moved in with us for a time. But it opened the door for us to host newcomers every year. In 2006, many of those same kids came again, but we found ourselves with more we didn't know. Then in 2008, some friends who worked in TV where I had been a reporter came for the holiday. TV people often have to work holidays and couldn't go with their families so we sat them at our table.
A few years later, my daughter invited some teachers to our home who didn't have a place to go. She was teaching at a charter school for low-income families and this time she invited one from Puerto Rico who had never been to a Thanksgiving. She and her husband brought the best drink that we now drink every year for Thanksgiving. It's coquito. Recipe link here. The year after that, my son-in-law invited his classmate from physician assistant school who was from India and also never celebrated our very American holiday. Rohan now comes every year and even his brother joins us! They love our food-centric holiday. Rohan had never even had meat before (many Indians are vegetarian) so he ate turkey! And drank wine (which we now know gives him a headache). But nevertheless, he was at our home again for the 2019 holiday along with his brother.
This year I kinda laughed because when my niece asked if she could bring her boss from Texas, her husband, her mother-in-law and a co-worker who's in law school; we said, "of course. But the china might not match and you might have to sit on the back porch." They didn't sit outside; we rented a table for the extras. And there was mismatched china. But ya know what? NOBODY CARES. NO. BODY. We asked folks to bring the side dishes; I have the ham and turkey here, two side dishes and two pies. And many brought a side dish, and it all worked out. We even have a few who are gluten-free vegans. Nothing says Thanksgiving like Merri's gluten-free vegan gravy made from nuts. Not even kidding. And Christina's vegan chocolate cake made with sweet potatoes. So you see, it's not a traditional meal for many, but it's a great gathering of people thankful for the day we have to break bread with family and friends.
This year was especially sweet as my father was able to make it despite his poor health. My mother suddenly passed away in July; they had been married for 56 years. She was his right arm. So he's missing her immensely and the help she provided him (he had a few strokes in 2015). But my nephew put him in the car, drove over two hours and he sat in his wheelchair and was able to have a photo made with his grandchildren and one great grandchild. That right there warmed my heart not knowing what tomorrow has for us.
So I challenge you, invite someone who doesn't have a family or a local friend to your next get together. You'll learn a lot about someone's situation or their culture or their unusual food nuances. It's worth it .