Looking Inward: Celebrating Away From Home

by Emily Russell

Sun Star Columnist

December 10, 2014

I moved to Alaska over two years ago, not knowing a single soul in a state that is two and a half times the size of Texas. Intimidated? Of course I was. But the pull was too strong to resist. I’ve been lucky enough to slowly accumulate friends throughout my lifetime that have become as close as family. They were especially important during the big moments and holidays throughout my life when my family was just too far away to share the experience with.

I moved away from home at the innocent age of 13. I began boarding school in western Massachusetts just a few weeks shy of my 14th birthday. Since that first birthday away from the comfort of my own home and loving family, birthdays have always been a sensitive and sometimes sad day for me. I spend them reflecting on the seemingly picture-perfect pool parties I used to host for every adolescent birthday I can ever remember. I am nostalgic to the point of exhaustion and even depression on these days that come once a year, these days that are set aside for the celebration of life, but which I inevitably end up in tears on. I have yet to master the graceful approach to celebrating a new age, far away from my childhood home and parents that raised me.

What I have seemed to perfect, or at least survive through, are celebrations that put less focus on me and more focus on the food on the table and the people in attendance. I’m talking about holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and other days that inspire people to congregate and cook delicious meals. Thanksgiving has always been a major holiday for me and my family on the East Coast, involving lace table cloths, nice booze, a beautiful bird, a walk on the beach and lots and lots of nicely-dressed family members. I left the East Coast before I could make the leap from the kid’s table to the adult table, but for that I am grateful.

Every Thanksgiving spent on the East Coast can be lumped into a wonderful set of childhood holidays, and my move to Alaska has forced me to host my own adult Thanksgiving. My first Thanksgiving in Fairbanks was one for the record books. On the Sunday, my two roommates and I hosted a “Friendsgiving,” which involved twenty or so guests and what seemed like enough pie for each guest to have his or her own. Later in the week, Lex and I drove down to Anchorage to celebrate with his family. We were just friends at that point, making his invitation all the more generous. The following year broke even more records with the amount of friends that gathered at my house in Fairbanks for Friendsgiving. The previous year, the carving of the turkey was left to a more experienced guest, but in 2013 I lost my carving virginity and gained experience for Thanksgivings to come.

The two Thanksgivings I hosted in Fairbanks exceeded my expectations for celebrating such a family-oriented holiday so far away from home. I took that experience with me when I moved down to Anchorage in 2014. Lex, my best friend, my boyfriend, and my ultimate cooking companion, would be traveling for Thanksgiving, so I knew I needed to surround myself with the people in Alaska who mean the most to me. It was easy to convince a friend, an East Coaster at that, to make the drive from Fairbanks to spend Thanksgiving with me. Two other girlfriends who have family in Anchorage also committed to attending my Friday “Girlsgiving” down at Lex’s mom’s cabin at Girdwood. We spent the day cooking pie, prepping the turkey, making stuffing, sauerkraut, and cranberry sauce and enjoying the company of each other. When the four of us finally sat down for dinner I could not stop beaming. These ladies gave up their Friday night, made the drive down to Girdwood and gave up time with their families to celebrate with me. For that I am thankful. Maybe I should take a lesson from my Alaskan Thanksgivings and treat my birthdays as not a day to be nostalgic, but a holiday to celebrate with friends that are worthy of being called family.

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