It was Thanksgiving, and my toddler daughter and I were alone.
My family lived halfway across the country. The other side of the family doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. And Papa was scheduled to work a long shift.
A Thanksgiving feast was not going to happen. It’s lonely to have no extended family or friends to sit around a full table of home cooked food enjoying each other’s company. No warm hugs from loved ones you have not seen in awhile. Nobody to laugh with when your pants feel to tight. And even those family feuds may be missed on those too quiet Thanksgivings spent alone.
I was determined to create a joyful Thanksgiving Day, and I had a plan.
I strapped my daughter into her carseat and drove to the only store I knew would be open on Thanksgiving.
We went to Walmart. Cue the groans of disapproval. Yeah, I know I am a Target girl myself, but Walmart was the only store with the lights still on and doors opened.
I was on a mission, and I knew right where I was going to steer my rusty, squeaky grocery cart.
The store was eerily quiet as there only a few of us there. Some lonely souls like me and others rushing to grab forgotten Thanksgiving menu items. This was long before the days of Black Friday encroaching upon Thanksgiving, so nobody rushing to save money on Christmas presents.
As we reached the aisle, my daughter was mesmerized by the display. Twinkling lights, playful tunes, and what seemed like a small forrest right inside that manufactured store.
She knew instantly which one was our’s, but I wasn’t quite so sure. While I needed one I could carry and assemble on my own, I thought it was a little too underwhelming.
But we circled the aisle several times, and she had her heart set on that modest and practical one. I hoisted the box into the cart.
As we checked out, the cashier and I chatted both of us happy to exchange smiles on this day where we probably weren’t where we wanted to be, but we were making the best of it.
Once home, I turned on the Christmas music, pulled out the ornaments, and opened the box from Walmart.
My toddler was giddy as I pulled out those prickly plastic pieces from the box, snapped the pieces together, and plugged in the lights to put up our very first Christmas tree.
I pulled out all the unbreakable ornaments for us to decorate the tree. She arranged them, so they were properly hanging on the bottom most branches of the tree.
The Christmas tree lights twinkled all day. As she played with the ornaments on the tree, I decorated the rest of the house.
Our lonely Thanksgiving turned into a day of magic and beauty by that two, foot artificial tree.
Almost a decade later, we still decorate that little tree on Thanksgiving Day if we are celebrating at home.
Our family has grown to four children. The kids still like to rearrange the ornaments throughout the season, but they have learned to space them more evenly throughout the tree. The chances of the tree getting knocked down reduces each year. They have stopped playing with the light cords, but there are arguments about who gets to plug in the lights each evening. Now, I can put presents under the tree because they won’t rip open the packages before Christmas Day.
Each year I suggest we buy a different tree, a real tree or maybe a bigger one. So far, they insist on keeping our humble tree.
That modest Christmas tree gave us a reason to celebrate that lonely Thanksgiving Day and many years after.