Thanksgiving was a big deal in my family growing up. It was my dad’s favorite holiday (football, food, family, yes please!). But what wasn’t a big deal in my family: dishes. We had them, but not a single plate matched, and we rarely used them because that would mean we had to wash them. My dad was a single parent going to school full time who cooked dinner every night, and using real dishes weren’t a priority. In fact, I didn’t know “fine china” was a thing until embarrassingly late in life because name brand paper plates were what we called “fine china”.

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It wasn’t until I went to college and went home with my roommate one weekend that I knew people had Thanksgiving centerpieces, and planned them many weeks in advance. I had never set foot inside a Bed Bath and Beyond, so I didn’t know people owned special plates that go under your actual plates or entire sets of silverware that only get used once a year and don’t have to get bent back into shape. My roommate’s parents had all those things, and a caterer for Thanksgiving dinner.

I probably threw up in our family gravy boat, because it was the same heirloom Tupperware bowl we also used for popcorn and foot soaks. (Don’t come at me, Rockefeller. Soap exists. And Grandma’s house actually had a dishwasher, unlike ours.) Our Thanksgiving table was a cheap folding table that probably belonged to my grandma’s grandma and if we had a tablecloth, it was always doubled up with the same vinyl coating they put on nursing home furniture.

Martha Stewart Living came into popularity when I was in junior high and high school, and I’m sure Martha would have shuddered at our gravy boat/popcorn bowl/foot bath/puke bucket and our paper plates and mismatched silverware. But she also would have loved my uncle’s deep-fried turkey (who needs Williams-Sonoma when you have Cabela’s?) and my aunt’s homemade rolls. And she definitely would be jealous of the fruits of my grandma’s canning labor… literally. Her applebutter jam was made from apples off the same tree where we spread Grandpa’s ashes.

My Thanksgiving table may not have been as pretty as my college roommate’s. It didn’t have matching dishes or a fancy centerpiece or special occasion silverware. But for us, a pretty table was never the point of Thanksgiving. We didn’t have much, but we were thankful for what little we had and saw Thanksgiving as our way of sharing a piece of our love and gratitude in the form of a dish that was probably made with a can of cream of mushroom soup.

If your Thanksgiving table does have all the finery of a Martha Stewart Living magazine cover, your kids aren’t going to care or remember either. They won’t compare your cooking or decorating skills to the Joneses next door (at least not until college, and hopefully by then they’ll just wonder what their roommate’s parents’ credit card bill looks like). What they’ll remember is the love and effort your family put into making the day special… even if they only decide to consume a single dinner roll.

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