I still recall rising to slivers of sunlight peeking through the blinds of my childhood room. Slowly adjusting to the light, I was brought to life by the wafting smell of comfort food. Engulfed by the scents of savory macaroni and cheese and warm yeast rolls, I would hop out of bed and rush to the kitchen to sneak a taste. Thanksgiving was not the grandest holiday in my family, but the opportunity to gather with family and express our gratitude for one another was always cherished. This time together never failed to reignite our favorite family traditions. From watching Dallas Cowboys games to getting a headstart on our favorite Christmas movies, these simple but nostalgic acts never failed to bring me joy.
As I made the transition to life as a college student, holiday traditions were far from my mind. Preoccupied with fear of coursework and adjusting to life in the dorms, I never stopped to think about the impact that this new chapter of my life would have on the family traditions I had grown to adore. An abridged Thanksgiving break accompanied by rising airline prices meant that I would not be returning home for the holiday. I understood the practicality of this decision, knowing that it was ultimately easier than returning home. Nevertheless, my absence from the traditional festivities I had grown accustomed to took its toll. My family’s Thanksgiving gatherings usually remained small, but knowing that I would not be a part of this simple celebration filled me with a sense of loss. Begrudgingly, I continued to remind myself of the practicality of the decision.
It was difficult to come to terms with my absence from the family gathering, but it was this vacancy that led to the birth of new traditions. Sensing my sadness, my mom decided to ease my transition from our traditional Thanksgiving. After scouring the internet for deals, she was able to purchase a roundtrip ticket to Chicago for Thanksgiving weekend and devised a plan. I would take the South Shore Line into the city and join her for the long weekend. I wouldn’t be home, but I would be with my family. As the time came for me to embark on the journey to Chicago, I couldn’t help but reminisce on celebrations in previous years. Yet, as I planted myself on the firm leather seat of the train, excitement began to build within me.
A year later, I found myself boarding the South Shore Line to Chicago, excited to once again spend a few days with my mom. I could not help but look forward to our Thanksgiving dinner reservations, anticipate Black Friday shopping on Michigan Avenue, excitedly await watching the last regular season Notre Dame game in our hotel room. It may not be the traditional Thanksgiving experience I grew up loving, but I am growing to love the newfound memories I am creating while away from home. Whether forming new traditions with friends or amending old family ones, I have learned to have an open mind when it comes to college life. I may not always experience holidays and celebrations in familiar ways, but I can make the most of these years and create new traditions.