I was bobbing my head to the beat at an electropop concert a few weeks ago, singing along, I’ll be home for next year, darling, I’ll be home for next year. I’d heard the song dozens of times.
I knew the words by heart. And as I sang out with thousands of other people—I’ll be home for next year—I almost began to cry.
Growing up hits you at unexpected times and in unexpected places, but I definitely did not anticipate that such a strong bout of homesickness would hit me in a mosh pit. But last week, even the barely edible piece of pumpkin pie (which, in all honesty, was the only reason I was convinced to go to hall meeting) sat like a rock in my stomach when I realized that this year, I wouldn’t be treated to my family friend’s to-die-for pumpkin pie with homemade whipped cream.
It’s the holiday thing. For the vast majority of my life, Thanksgiving involved either the traditional turkey with family or the more daring duck confit with our best family friends. And it was more than just tradition: that’s what the holiday meant. The smell of roasting turkey, the overheated kitchen, the personalized napkin rings made from toilet paper rolls and spray-painted black to look like pilgrims’ hats: these were constant, through the trials of elementary school, the roller coaster of puberty and the drama of high school.
Whether a sophomore or a second-grader, the feeling of anticipation after school let out on the day before Thanksgiving was the same. I was growing up, but as long as Mom’s famous cranberry sauce recipe never changed, I could handle it.
I’m not going to be home for Thanksgiving this year. The break was the only time to visit my friends on the east coast, so instead of going home to Southern California (where it’s sixty degrees and “freezing!” as we tend to exclaim during the “frigid” SoCal winters), I’m heading to Providence and Boston, where cold takes on an entirely new meaning. I’m excited to (possibly) experience my first white Thanksgiving, but my heart still aches for the sunny Turkey Days of years past. As I look forward to a more adult celebration, I can’t help but reminisce about the good old days at the kids’ table, where I sat with my brother and chatted awkwardly with cousins we only saw once a year.
Plenty of students don’t go home for Thanksgiving break. Some go on Thanksgiving service trips or stay with friends in the area; others stay on campus because the trip home is too lengthy or expensive. But as I face my first Thanksgiving away from home, I’m beginning to understand that this is what growing up means. It means that sometimes we have to relinquish the comfort of custom in order to create new traditions. It means that not every holiday will be spent in the warm embrace of familiarity. In order to create our own lives, we sometimes have to give up the things that define our childhood…at least until next year.