It is Thanksgiving 2006 and I am clutching a single page of printed type in one hand and a worn pink blanket in the other. I look down at the paper I am holding. I know all the words, but it feels good to look down and see they have not changed since I last checked. I am nudged by the boy next to me, curly hair and dark eyes, and know it is my turn. I stand up and walk towards a smiling woman who nods encouragingly and gestures towards the microphone. I glance down one last time before beginning, “I am thankful for my blanket. I have a special blanket that can separate me from fear.”
As I continue to recite the words I wrote months before, I notice one of the waitresses in the small cafe has stopped to listen. When I finish, she wipes her cheeks and ducks into the kitchen. I step away from the microphone and go to sit with my family. My dad tugs my blanket tight around me and kisses my forehead before turning his attention back towards the curly haired boy who has begun to read his essay. The waitress re-emerges from the kitchen holding something in her hand and approaches where I am sitting. Kneeling down, she whispers, “I have a blanket like yours. I took it with me when I was deployed to Afghanistan.” She shows me the picture she is holding. She’s in camouflage gear with a sky blue blanket pulled around her shoulders. “I didn’t get to spend that Thanksgiving with my family, but it felt like I had a little piece of home over there for the holidays.”
Over a decade later, I still think about this woman and her blanket when the holiday season approaches. Here at the University of Utah, some members of our student body may be familiar with how this woman felt. These people will not be able to join in on their family’s Thanksgiving celebrations as the U, unlike many other universities in this country, only has a two day Thanksgiving break. A couple days is sufficient for students with family here locally to celebrate gratitude and togetherness, but other students do not have the luxury of returning home for the holiday as it is financially restrictive for such a short visit. While these students may have metaphorical or literal blankets of their own to separate them from fear or loneliness, we as their peers can help by sharing our holiday cheer.
Hosting a Friendsgiving, a Thanksgiving celebration with friends typically before or after Thursday, is a great way to ensure your friends experience some of the holiday magic. If you are comfortable, you can also invite a friend planning to spend Thanksgiving alone to your family’s festivities. If you do not have to work on Black Friday, reach out to anyone you may know who did not return home for the break and see if they would be available to watch football, go shopping or hit the hiking trails. Include those who may otherwise be excluded from this holiday through thoughtful acts of friendship to ensure that each of our students has a nice Thanksgiving break.