What Thanksgiving Means to Us

Whether it’s Halloween or Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukkah, fall through winter houses a number of celebrated holidays that frequently fight for the limelight when deciding upon a personal favorite. Spooky vs. Santa, turkey vs. ham – no matter your preference, the Holidays mean so much to so many.

While the inception of each holiday began with a specific purpose, over time, individuals from across the United States have gleaned their own personal meaning behind each occasion. This is what makes Thanksgiving a special celebration: the nature of being thankful is uniquely personal for everyone around the dinner table, and can take on a profound new meaning each and every year.

​OPG self-advocate, Andrew Lyons, tells me how he always looks forward to Thanksgiving. “I like being with friends, and the laughter with family.” Thanksgiving usually consists of a more modest gathering for Andrew, but he recalls a memory from many years ago that he thinks back on fondly at this time of year. “We went to my great aunt and uncle’s house. I remember seeing everyone and smiling.”

As Andrew’s mind casts itself over all the “flavorful food” he enjoys at Thanksgiving, he tells me that there are three things he’s truly thankful for this year: “good health, fun with friends, and making memories.” This sentiment was echoed by fellow OPG self-advocate, Jessica Steuterman, who told me that what means the most to her at Thanksgiving is her mom and dad… and the food.

​For many, Thanksgiving brings with it a number of family traditions. “I like to decorate pumpkins,” Jessica says with a smile. For others, like Andrew, it’s different every year. However, it becomes clear when talking about holiday traditions that the traditions themselves embody the true meaning behind the occasion; when asked about her favorite part of Thanksgiving, Jessica takes a brief pause and says, “I like to give out hugs every year.”

​Traditions come in many forms. For Quality Enhancement Specialist, Sherry Vickrey, it involves all of her family gathering on the floor and spreading the newspaper out to look at the ads, along with pre-Christmas festivities. “Before we eat we have to write five things we want for Christmas in the Christmas book. We’re not allowed to eat until we do,” she laughs. “It also means I get to put up my Christmas tree the next day.”

Of course, when the last drop of sentiment has been drunk, there’s the copious amount of delicious food. “Every year I have to make green bean casserole, if I don’t I’m not allowed to come to Thanksgiving,” Sherry tells me – with Jessica attesting to the green bean deliciousness being a personal favorite of hers also. “It’s the one time of year my whole family get together. We spend the whole day cooking, eating and laughing.”

For Andy Griffin, another OPG self-advocate, Thanksgiving is all about games. “I watch football with my family. We play card games too.” For Andy, he’s especially thankful for the self-sufficiency OPG has helped him achieve. “I am more independent. And I’m looking for a new job – I have a new job coach,” he expresses enthusiastically.

As businesses shutdown, cars line the roads, and family members embrace each other with open-arms, the importance of Thanksgiving becomes abundantly clear. Sherry tells me how this is her first Thanksgiving with her new husband, and reflects on what the holiday means to her most of all. “Since my dad passed away two years ago and my mom got cancer, I’m just especially thankful that she’s here for Thanksgiving.”

While the story of the original Thanksgiving is frequently misconstrued, the core message remains a constant. The first Thanksgiving was indeed very different from the modern-day celebration. But as families and friends gather to eat food, laugh, and give thanks, we discover a common ground with the Pilgrims of 1621: we all have something or someone in life to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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