by Kim Karpeles

There aren’t many songs written about wanting to be home for Thanksgiving, but some mournful lyrics would have helped the first year I couldn’t be. Through my early twenties, I’d lived, studied, and worked within a few hour’s drive of family in Illinois and always went home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. But that particular year I was employed in Massachusetts and lowest on my department’s seniority list. Short on vacation days and outranked by the group’s executive assistant, my time in New England was going to keep me away.    

What does somebody do when they can’t be with family for the turkey feast? I’d never considered the question. There were international students in college who went home with friends to experience the American tradition of food and football games. But as their cultures didn’t observe Thanksgiving Day; they weren’t yearning for family traditions like buttermilk pie and wild rice casserole.

By the time early November rolled around, I’d been in the Boston area for a few months and was involved in an adult Sunday school class. Conversations soon included polite questions such as, “What are you doing for Thanksgiving?” “Will be going home for the holiday?” “What foods are special at your Thanksgiving feasts?” When a couple in their early 30’s heard I wouldn’t make it home, they jumped at the opportunity to include me in their celebrations.

“We remember our first couple of years in Massachusetts when we couldn’t get home to Ohio. A couple in our church invited us to their home, and it eased the pain of not being with our families. Now that we have children and don’t want to travel, we try to include stranded people at our Thanksgiving dinners,” she said. “It made such a difference in our lives, and we want to share that blessing with others.”

Invitations to share Thanksgiving made sense for the international students; but I hadn’t encountered fellow Americans limited by work schedules at other family’s holiday celebrations. Though I didn’t want to sit in my apartment for Thanksgiving and hadn’t cooked a turkey before, I wondered if going was wise. I knew what nutsy stuff to expect with my family, but I didn’t know this couple well. Maybe there would be loud uncles downing beer after beer or a crazy mother-in-law on a rampage for absolute control. Every family has holiday horror stories and being invited to play a supporting role in an unknown family’s drama didn’t appeal.  I gladly, yet cautiously, accepted.

Upon arrival, the hostess pulled me in to the kitchen packed with people and introduced me round. A long table stretched across the family room, and cheering Patriots fans packed the couches. Everything was far less formal than my mother’s china and crystal table settings with family dressed in their Sunday best, but joining their feast was a major reason to give thanks that year. God had answered a need I wasn’t aware I would have in an unfamiliar yet life-giving way.

In the decades since my Thanksgiving rescue, many stranded people have put their knees under my family’s holiday table. International and seminary students, couples from church small groups whose adult children rotated to the in-laws’ house that year, singles without a place to go, and people trapped by work schedules. Each year I look at the guests’ faces and remember the hospitality of the couple whose names I can’t recall. I am still thankful for their generosity and pray that their gesture will go on and on and on.

Kim Karpeles is the Director of Communication for a mid-sized church in Northbrook, Illinois. She holds two masters degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; one in Systematic Theology, the other in Christian Studies. Kim enjoys reading, sudoku puzzles, travel, and learning Spanish.