To me, Thanksgiving represents not just a “vacation” day, but rather a day to reflect on the past year — no matter how bad — and be thankful for what life has given to us. Every year I look forward to celebrating two days with my family and friends; selfishly, the first day (my birthday) is all about me. And, as you can guess, the second day I look forward to comes on the fourth Thursday in November.

No one truly knows the origin of Thanksgiving. Although we have been taught in school that the first Thanksgiving occurred in 1621 with the Pilgrims, the settlers of Saint Augustine celebrated a “Thanksgiving” more than 50 years earlier. Of course, those thanksgiving celebrations were more religious in nature. In fact, the Saint Augustine celebration featured a “Mass of Thanksgiving” offering thanks for safely arriving in Florida (aka the New World). And, much like the Florida Thanksgivings of today, the earliest one featured an enormous feast. But as usual, I digress.

Fred’s Thanksgiving tradition involves a pilgrimage (yes, it’s a pun — deal with it) to my parent’s house in Davie, Florida. In the last 20 years, I can only remember two Thanksgivings not spent in Davie. One was a road trip that David and I made to Pensacola (while my parents celebrated elsewhere) and the other I spent in Gainesville; not having enough seniority to skip the UF-FSU football game.

Thanksgiving at my parent’s house involves the three F’s — Family, Food, and Food. But wait, did I just say Food twice? Yes, and why? Because there’s that much Food. Mmmmm food. Anyway, Family from all over the country flock to Davie much like the Cliff Swallows to San Juan Capistrano, California. Although the numbers vary yearly (small celebrations have 12 people, large are well over 25), there are constants that never change. First, we will have brisket, turkey, stuffing, and more food than one person can eat in one sitting. Second, family will be there and will be welcomed. And, lastly, we remember why we have gathered together.

Much like Prince said in the eighties, we have gathered to celebrate this thing called life (yes, technically, he said gathered to “get through” this thing called life, but I’m taking liberty here). Anyway, no matter what the day brings, at the end of our trials, our family and friends remain to either share our joy or sorrow. They lend a shoulder for consolation or hug for congratulations. Our family provides the support we need to “get through this thing called life.”

Although I’ve said it before, I like to say it every year… I truly believe that family does not merely consist of shared blood or upbringing. Our friends are the family we choose. Let’s face it, I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I was lucky to be born into a family I truly love. A family I can count on when times are tough, and I family that can count on me to be there for them. But, I’ve also been able to add to my family great friends that have helped me grow (yes, I’m on a diet 🙂 ) and well, let me say this:

Yes, I look forward each year for 2 days — my birthday and Thanksgiving. This year, my birthday witnessed the brutal killing of a dear friend; a person I considered family. And although it’s been just over a month since Ricardo’s death, I am thankful for the laughter we shared and to have been able to consider him not only a great friend, but also a part of family. He was the first to respond to my Thanksgiving messages (he kept odd hours) and always returned both kind words and a reminder that there is no Thanksgiving in Argentina. Sadly, this year, I’m afraid he’s right on that one.

The trials of life remind us that we live. This year, I am choosing to remember on Thanksgiving that even when family are taken from us, we must be thankful for the time we shared. I am thankful for many things. My health, my relationship, and of course my family. My family provides me the ability to smile, the tissues to wipe away tears, and the moral compass to always find my way.

So, my thanks are to you — yes… YOU. You are my family, and today, I give thanks to have you in my life.