Thanksgiving has always been the “biggest” and most important holiday for my family. Growing up in an Upper West Side building that overlooks the route for the Macy’s Day Parade, our annual parade party has been the longest standing tradition in my family and in my life. I have memories of being a child and waking up at the crack of dawn to see the crowds of people, already lining the streets before the sun had even come up — bundled up and anxiously awaiting the start of the parade — just as I was in my cozy home. I would sit at the window for what felt like hours as my parents set up for the party, pining to see the famous Macy’s Day Parade balloons, floats, bands, and more. As our friends and family started to pour in our front door, I remember seeing them as mere distractions from the excitement of the parade, much preferring to see Kermit the Frog float by as opposed to saying hello to my grandparents.
The parade party was always followed by a lazy early afternoon - lounging about in a post-pastry daze, yet still picking at whatever our guests leftover for us, before starting to prepare goodies for that evening’s feast. However, as I have a huge family (youngest of 5 kids and aunt to soon-to-be 12 nieces and nephews), our Thanksgiving festivities seemed to grow in size and number as our family did. I am not sure what year it started, but the night after Thanksgiving we all headed to my brother’s house in New Jersey for the first of what became our annual Thanksgiving pizza-making contest. I think it was originally meant as a fun activity for my nieces and nephews, but it very quickly turned into my siblings and me elbowing our way past the children to grab at the best ingredients laid out on the long kitchen island to make our masterpiece pizza creations in hope of winning the “Best Pizza in Show” title.
A few years later, one of my brothers, who had formerly been living in Atlanta, moved back to the Northeast and wanted to be part of the “hosting committee” for the weekend. His proposal? A Sunday feast at his house in Greenwich, CT with food from a local place called Burgers, Shakes, and Fries. So, that is correct, after a parade party full of morning pastries galore, a full thanksgiving feast, a pizza making party, the only logical next addition was a day full of, you guessed it, burgers, shakes, and fries.
For a family who is actually quite health-minded, all practicing our own forms of regular exercise and healthy eating habits, our Thanksgiving celebrations have somehow gone down a path of unexpected and complete gluttony. While this is so much of what the holidays are about - good food, family, friends, old traditions, new traditions, and general merriment - I started to find that I literally needed two weeks to recover from my three-day-healthy-habit-toss-out-the-window binge - and I wasn’t the only one. As fun and joyful as the holiday was, it left me feeling tired, usually sick, and left my stomach rather angry. None of us wanted to give up on what we now deem “The Greatest Thanksgiving Celebration of All Time,” but none of us wanted to just throw our health out of the window in such an extreme way for three straight days either.
In 2008, when my mother was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer, it was a game changer for our entire family - in all areas of our life - including Thanksgiving. On the one hand, when faced with the fact that nothing in life is permanent and even our most cherished family traditions and perhaps even our family would change forever, all we wanted to do was hold on to those traditions just a little bit tighter and soak up every moment just a little bit deeper. Yet, on the other hand, we were also faced with our mother’s very serious health crisis, which without a doubt made us all question the healthy (or not-so-healthy) choices we were making in our own lives. On a more literal level, as my mother became more sick with each passing year, our extravagant holiday weekend had to be modified. Not only was she too tired to make it through so much activity, but her strict anti-cancer diet (which many of us had adopted), most certainly didn’t involve burgers, shakes, or fries. One of the years, my mother was actually in the hospital on Thanksgiving, and we found ourselves eating take-out sushi in the lounge of Memorial Sloan Kettering. However, it didn’t matter, we were together as a family — getting through a tough time together.
While we did our very best to keep the spirit of the holidays up, we were, without a question, going through the hardest time my family had ever faced, and each of us needed to find a way to stay strong and healthy for each other, for our mother, and for ourselves. We were all facing enough, we didn’t really have room to face a three-day junk food binge on top of it. Instead of reaching for leftover pastries, I found myself out for a run in the park with my brother to clear our heads before the evening festivities began. The pizza party remained, because life is not life without a little pizza (balance, people), and our Sunday burger, shakes, and fries turned into sushi Sunday. Everything slowed down just a bit, we breathed each moment in just a little deeper, and all of us did everything we could to keep up our health and our strength through a still joyous but incredibly challenging time.
Now, as I head into the first Thanksgiving without my mother, a holiday I know will be incredibly challenging this time around, I am going to be soaking up every moment with every member of my family on such a deeper level. Something we all should do every single day — holidays or not. Just as important, I am more keenly aware than ever of how important it is to take care of myself and my health during the best of times and the worst. If we don’t take care of ourselves and show up for ourselves, we can never fully show up for those around us. For me this means moving my body every day (even on holidays), eating the best I can WHEN I can, but still rewarding myself with my favorite holiday indulgences, and making sure I am centered and present so I can not only face what is sure to be a tough holiday season in so many ways, but still have the strength to lift my head and my heart up, celebrate, and be grateful for all that I have — my family, my friends, my community, and most of all, myself. These are gifts and rewards to be cherished.
So on this holiday dedicated to giving thanks, make sure to thank yourself and be grateful for yourself. And wherever you are spending this holiday season, don’t forget to show up for yourself, and reward yourself with more than just presents and pie, but truly reward yourself and be grateful for the gift of movement and health.
So, from all of us here at The Sweat Life, we wish you a very Happy (and hopefully sweaty) Thanksgiving. We are most deeply grateful for each and every one of you!
Until next week,
Founder, CEO, and Host
The Sweat Life