Did you enjoy your turkey and stuffing, or your Chinese food, or vegetable lasagna? Everyone does Thanksgiving their own way. My son and I have had some crazy years, from the year we ate out because the electric was turned off, to the year we had to cook the turkey in a hot pot because we just moved in and didn't even have an oven. They've all been wonderful, no matter how skimpy the meals. Our worst years were spent apart. I did three combat tours. The food in the chow hall was hot and abundant and actually quite good. The Army tries hard to take care of the troops on Thanksgiving and Christmas. But despite the food and the camaraderie, the holiday might have been any other workday, to me. I'd rather eat hot dogs and ramen with my son, than dine on lobster and steak without him. In all our crazy years, two of my best memories of Thanksgiving are memories of Walt Disney World with family.
When my son was still young, I went back into the Army. That meant he had to go live with my mom for over a year. To celebrate our reunion when that year was up, we went to Walt Disney World. It was a short trip, that time. It was just after 9-11 and the parks were desperate to increase their attendance as skittish travelers stayed away out of fear. They offered free tickets to military, and I scored steep discounts on the hotel too. I met him at the airport, and we took a bus to the Magic Kingdom. We were in awe. The magic washed over us, and the world Walt built became our special place.
Creating a Tradition
So a few years later, we got a chance to return. Was it our first return, or second? I don't remember. What I remember was the most delicious Thanksgiving meal I had ever not had to cook. The wonderful Liberty Square Tavern provided the perfect ambiance and traditional fare. It must have been easier to get a reservation back then, as we never had time enough in our planning, nor certainty enough, to dare make reservations more than a week in advance. Possibly we made it after arriving, as we used to do all the time. Goofy and Micky, Chip and Dale, visited our table. We discovered the sweet orange honey-butter that made their rolls irresistible. Apple cobbler with ice cream had never been part of our Thanksgiving before. It should always be. I confuse our various trips in my memory now. Every trip to Walt Disney World, we make a visit to this, our favorite restaurant. They tell me now that the Liberty Tree no longer has character dining. That's a shame. But I won't stop going there, and dragging any family member I can to try it on their first time joining us. So I don't remember what year we first tried their food, which year was Thanksgiving for real. I just know, in my mind, Thanksgiving will always be sitting with family, gazing out of seed glass windows at the parade, taking selfies with Minnie Mouse, while servers dressed in 1700's garb bring platters of steaming roast beef and turkey to the table.
Sometimes, I do remember the date and who was with us. Like the Thanksgiving we went to Disney World with my sister and her family.
Christmas in the Magic Kingdom is special. The trees are beautiful, the fake snow magical, and there are no sidewalks to shovel. The year we went, thousands of lights festooned the Streets of America in Hollywood Studios. But we didn't go for Christmas that year. Christmas was still a month away. We would be there for my nephew's birthday, and coincidentally, Thanksgiving. My sister had made the arrangements for the birthday breakfast in Animal Kingdom while I made the arrangements for Thanksgiving. My son and I thought we were clever. We had figured out that a whole feast from Boston Market was far less than a meal at one of the restaurants for a clan as big as ours. We drove a few blocks to the Boston Market and picked up a fully cooked turkey with fixings plus apple pie for dessert and brought it back, right to the room. Did I say that we didn't have a suite or a cabin? Nope, we were squeezed, three young kids, one teen, and three adults, in two normal rooms of Pop Century. We covered the table in our bounty and chowed down sitting on beds and chairs. It was informal and fun, watching some movie or other on the room television and eating a whole turkey. All those leftovers had to fit in our tiny in-room fridge. That was a challenge. But it was all delicious and silly and the look on the Mousekeeping lady's face was worth it. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
However you spent your Thanksgiving, whether you had to eat at a soup kitchen, or chow hall, drove to grandma's, or ate your Hot Pockets in front of the TV while watching an old movie with your cats, I hope you enjoyed every bit of it. I have come to realize, Thanksgiving isn't a holiday. It's what you feel when you look back at those best moments and realize, it could have been so much worse. And I am thankful for good times.