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Contentment with small things

A scaled-down Thanksgiving, whether by choice or circumstance, can be just as warm and appealing as a big feast.

By Julie Finnin Day Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 15, 2000

It's ingrained in the minds of so many Americans - that Norman Rockwell image of Grandmother placing a glowing brown turkey on a white table, surounded by smiling faces huddling as if listening to some family tale.

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For many Americans, Thanksgiving is a time for renewing bonds with extended family and friends, and for bountiful tables. But what about people who can't take part in such a large festivity?

Whether it's parents whose children live far away, or singles who choose to spend the holiday with friends, or people who want to simplify this annual tradition, many are finding they can have all the meaning of Thanksgiving around a smaller table.

For Alice Shobe, a wife and mother of two young children, the beauty of the day is precisely in its simplicity. No football. No shopping. No pressure. Just good friends and food.

"I like the feeling of sitting at the table, and feeling calm, and having nice conversation with people that I'm really happy to be there with," says Ms. Shobe, deputy director of a Seattle nonprofit organization.

Shobe and her husband, Eric Svarens, usually spend Christmas with his parents in Portland, Ore. And her parents live in Michigan - too far to travel on the busiest holiday of the year. So, to their delight, that leaves Thanksgiving as the one holiday they can spend exactly as they please, and that's with their children, 11 months and four years old, and a few close friends.

For her husband, an organizational consultant, this kind of celebration is a relief from pressured family gatherings.

"We've said, 'Let's make this something that works for us,' " Mr. Svarens explains. "The only tradition so far is, Alice makes this incredible cranberry sauce. But other traditions are not fully developed yet."

Defining and observing traditions is important to Hepsie and Ron Davis's Thanksgiving celebrations. In 35 years of marriage, they have lived in several US states, Geneva, and Hong Kong, following Ron's postings as a corporate lawyer. While they were raising two daughters, they rarely lived near relatives. Now they are retired and live in Flat Rock, N.C.

Observing family rituals "was a very conscious effort because of our children," says Mrs. Davis. "We wanted to establish our own family traditions, to develop our own strong family bond. Even if it's just Ron and I, we try to maintain family traditions."

For the Davises, Thanksgiving Day starts with a leisurely breakfast. For dinner, it's the traditional turkey with the highlights: "steamed oysters, fried oysters, oyster stuffing. Always oysters," Mrs. Davis says. "This is oyster season in North Carolina," where she grew up.

"I think Thanksgiving is a state of mind," she says. "It's not the event, it's what the event symbolizes. And you can have that by yourself or with two people."

Judith Reiffel spent 20 years living and working in Berlin, long after her sons had grown up. After 20 years without Thanksgiving, and always being the guest at Christmas, Ms. Reiffel was primed for celebrations when she retired to the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston.