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The Blessings That Sneak Into Our Heart on Thanksgiving



Cari Donaldson - published on 11/27/14

About 100 miles from Plymouth Rock, my family’s celebration is beginning.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays of the year.  It is the de facto beginning 
of the Christmas season around here, and while I’m always in awe of families who 
manage to fast from Christmas during Advent, we never do. The radio gets tuned to 
the Christmas carol station while the dishes from Thanksgiving dinner are being 
cleared, which is a minor victory for me, considering my kids start badgering me for 
it sometime around October 30th.
I love reading the historical accounts of that first Thanksgiving in New England, 
where fifty Pilgrim settlers and ninety members of the Wampanoag tribe met for a 
three-day feast of gratitude.  The fifty Pilgrims were the only ones of the hundred 
who had originally landed in Plymouth.  Among those fifty were four adult women—
the only four women who had survived that first winter in Massachusetts.
It was upon the shoulders of these four survivors that the task of cooking for 140 
people for a three-day period fell.  Of course.
I imagine what that must have entailed- cleaning and gutting the eels that the 
Wampanoag had taught the settlers how to catch.  Feathering and butchering the 
waterfowl and turkeys that had been killed.  Cleaning and prepping the corn, the 
turnips, the carrots.  Cooking and cooking and cooking in a new world that must 
have seemed very wild and unruly to those European women.
Three hundred and ninety-three years later, and about 100 miles from Plymouth 
Rock, my family’s Thanksgiving is beginning.  My sister-in-law and her two girls 
have flown up from Georgia to spend the holiday with us, and instead of a meager 
three-day celebration, we get almost a full week.  We are down two adult women to 
help cook, but we’ve got three tweenaged girls, who make up in enthusiasm what 
they may lack in kitchen experience.
The first day, we bake bread.  We bake half a dozen loaves of challah, foolishly 
thinking it will last for three days.  Within twelve hours, half of it is gone.  I blame 
the four year old, who is notorious for pulling bookmarks from books, hitting his 
siblings with large branches, and sneaking whole loaves of bread into is bedroom. 
The second day, we grocery shop.  We start off the trip with hearts full of goodwill 
towards our fellow man.  It’s the holidays!  Loved ones are here!  Family memories 
to last a lifetime!  Also, the junk food companies have suddenly decided that 2014 is 
The Year of the Cranberry, and suddenly there’s cranberry-flavored Sprite, cranberry-flavored Oreos, even some cranberry-flavored cereal.  What’s not to
But then, by the third time a child has hit the backs of my ankles with the shopping 
cart, I’ve navigated 15 extremely crowded aisles in search of those dang French-
fried onions, and neither me nor my sister-in-law remembered to write out a 
grocery list, things start getting a little less festive.  By the time we reach the 
checkout line, and the cashier is unable to understand why my sister-in-law gave 
him $61 for a $51 grocery bill, staring stupidly at the money in his hand while my 
kids paw through all the gum, begging me for one more chance to have some, please 
mom, we swear we will stop the baby from smearing it in her hair this time, the first 
cracks in my holiday cheer start to show.
The third day, the house is trashed.  All the towels are gone.  Not dirty, just gone.
We’re missing a dog, and I suspect he may be hidden under the mountain of dirty 
dishes on the counter, but since he’s not making a racket, I’m not in a hurry to  
investigate. The kids have let the chickens out- deliberately- seven times, and have 
spent a combined total of four hours chasing them around the gully, trying to round 
them back up.  This is, apparently, great fun for kids ages 12-2.  It is less fun for the 
mothers.  And the chickens.  Egg production is going to suffer.  The noise level in the 
house hasn’t dipped below 110 decibels in 72 hours.  

But then, we sit down to dinner, all eleven of us.  We bow our heads and say grace.
For a moment, there is a sort of hush.  Then a flurry of dishes being passed and food 
being eaten, and- yes- drinks being spilled.  And laughter.  And stories.  And all those 
moments of domestic bliss that sneak into your heart when you weren’t looking.  
The towels are still missing.  Several of the chickens are running around somewhere 
as I write this.  I’ve had so much cranberry flavored food items I think I can safely 
say I’ve had my fill.  But this Thanksgiving, like the one almost 400 years ago, is the 
emotional reset we all need to pause, look around, and take stock of those blessings 
that snuck into your heart, unnoticed. 
(My nieces, Kala and Emma, very much wanted me to mention them by name in this 
article, and since they’re two of the things I’m most thankful for this year, I would hate to disappoint them.  Happy Thanksgiving, girls.  I love you!)

Cari Donaldson
is the author of
Pope Awesome and Other Stories: How I Found God, Had Kids, and Lived to Tell the Tale
. She married her high school sweetheart, had six children with him, and now spends her days homeschooling, writing, and figuring out how to stay one step ahead of her child army. She blogs about faith and family life at

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