Thanksgiving is a holiday that’s most popularly recognized as an occasion to eat too much, watch television, fight with your in-laws, and occasionally give thanks, but the reality is much more diverse. In “My Thanksgiving,” we’re talking to a handful of Americans across the country — and world — to get a broader sense of the holiday. For some of our interviewees, they have no traditions at all. But the day — steeped in American mythos, an origin story that comes with great complications — is at least passively observed by even the most agnostic of patriots. In this installment, Becky, who works on and lives near a military base in Germany, discuss Thanksgiving away from their children.
This Thanksgiving, since we’re in Germany, and both of our kids are in the states, we are planning to take a trip. Just the two of us to Berlin or Prague for a few days. We haven’t gotten far enough in our planning yet to know exactly what we’re gonna do there. I think that’s what we’ll do.
We make sure that there’s something happening for the single soldiers that are here for Thanksgiving, so that they’re not spending the holiday alone. It’s tradition in the military for dining facilities to put on a really big spread for Thanksgiving. One of the things that both [John] and I have done in the past, particularly when we worked with more soldiers, is for the officers of the unit [to] put on their dress uniform on and serve the soldiers their meals.
They decorate the facility and they’ll make ice sculptures or they’ll have special desserts. It’s the traditional food that lots of families have for Thanksgiving. The soldiers who are cooks enjoy making it a real special presentation.
In a deployed environment, [Thanksgiving is] bittersweet. These guys are 18-19 years old, so this could be the first time they’ve ever spent a holiday away from their family. They have a lot of food for us and everybody eats a lot and relaxes a little bit, but people miss their family. [They] try to schedule time to Skype with their family members. Lots of people from the states usually send extra goodies and care packages.
One Thanksgiving I was even deployed to Iraq. It was a really special occasion because they put tablecloths on the tables. There was extra food. But since we didn’t drink alcohol when we were [there] we had sparkling grape juice and near-beer. I worked on a night shift and so the night shift from our office got up early during the daytime when we would normally be sleeping and we had Thanksgiving with the people from our office who worked day shift. It was kind of like when your relatives come to visit. But we came from another shift and had Thanksgiving dinner with the other guys on our team.
When [our kids] were little, sometimes we would go to the dining facility. This year, they’re going to spend Thanksgiving with their grandparents in California. I was more concerned about them being alone on Thanksgiving than me missing them. They’re coming over for Christmas, so we’ll see them then.
That’s kind of the cycle of life. As your kids get older, then they either have other commitments or their own families. At least for us, being military, and [our children’s] grandparents on [their] father’s side are military too. We’re just kind of used to, “You grow up, and then the military takes you away, and you may or may not be able to spend Thanksgiving with your biological family.” When you can’t, you reach out to the people you do get to be with.