Just Can’t With the Thanksgiving Feast This Year? Do This Instead

Culinary Specialist Kontar Fuentes, left, from Bronx, New York, and Capt. Sean Bailey, commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), carve the turkey for a Thanksgiving meal held aboard the ship. U.S. Navy photo/David Mora Jr.

Usually, my house is the place to be on Thanksgiving. I make a full meal, complete with roast turkey, homemade sides and pumpkin pie. My husband invites any Marine who lives in the barracks to come over and enjoy a meal with our family. We usually have a handful of young, single service members who accept his offer. Their families are far away all around the country, and they have nowhere else to go on Thanksgiving. This has been an important project for my husband, ever since he was a young Marine in the barracks and a senior enlisted family prepared meals for him.

To pay it forward, we invite the young service members to our house. They bring snacks or drinks and spend time playing with our kids. I set out the china and we enjoy the meal I prepared. Afterward, we play board games or video games, with a break for dessert. The Marines laugh and joke, and tell us our kids remind them of their little siblings or nieces and nephews. They challenge my husband to another match of FIFA on the Playstation. And then I send them all home with plates full of food to eat the next day.

Typically, that is how we do Thanksgiving at our house. That’s the only celebration our military kids have known. We haven’t been able to celebrate with our own families for many years because of being stationed far from home. So instead we celebrate with our military family. I love cooking and sharing food with friends. I enjoy helping my husband repay the kindness he enjoyed as a young service member.

But not this year. Because this year, he is deployed.

Without my husband, I have very little motivation to cook. All his Marines are deployed with him. Sure, there are other units in other barracks on our base, but I don’t know any of them, so I’m not jumping to invite strangers over to my house. In fact, I don’t want to cook a turkey at all.

I don’t want to make the grocery lists and fight the traffic and long lines.

I don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen while my kids complain that they are bored and hungry.

The kids don’t really care about roast turkey and homemade sides. They would be just as happy with a box of mac and cheese.

Can we just skip the whole Thanksgiving ordeal?

Sadly, no. I know it’s important to continue holiday traditions, even during deployment. It is especially important when you have children. They love routines. They remember how we celebrated last year. And they are sure to bring this up if I try to skip it this year.

So this is where I draw the line: I’m not cooking a turkey!

Here’s what I am willing to do instead of cooking:

Attend “Friendsgiving.” Many other spouses in our unit are also spending the holiday near base, and everyone wants to celebrate, but no one wants to make the full meal. The solution? A Potluck. Grab a few friends and invite them over to your house. It can be on Thanksgiving Day or a few days earlier. Bonus if they have kids the same age as yours. Everyone brings one dish. It can be homemade or from the grocery frozen section. (I won’t judge!) Let the kids play or watch TV while you all enjoy a delicious meal. It’s easy. It’s fun. And someone can always heat up a ham instead of roasting a turkey!

Eat at a restaurant. On Thanksgiving Day, a local restaurant hosts a free Thanksgiving dinner for military families. I keep hearing about how delicious their buffet is. I think this is the perfect year to try it out! I’m sure we won’t be the only ones in attendance who are in the middle of a deployment. I could afford to take the kids to a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner, but I’m not sure I would justify the high cost. This way, they are offering a free meal with no excuses. It is sure to lift our spirits and make the holiday a little sweeter.

Do I have things to be thankful for during this deployment Thanksgiving? Absolutely.

I am thankful for friends who live nearby and encourage us through deployment holidays.

I am truly thankful for local businesses like the restaurant who see the needs in the military community and rise to the occasion.

I’m thankful that my husband has been home to celebrate with us during so many other years.

And mostly — I’m thankful I won’t have to cook the turkey this year.

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