A Very Merry Outdoor Thanksgiving

I’m just going to say it: holidays at our house had gotten boring.  I don’t mean to imply that I am not properly thankful for the blessings in my life, but our celebrations had stagnated.  I have a relatively small extended family and the kids were all getting older.  We did the same thing year after year and ate the same food.  The women did the dishes while the men slept on the sofa with the T.V. blaring.  It just didn’t feel like we were connecting as a family anymore.  I longed to shake things up a little.

I don’t recall just when the idea occurred to me to have a “Family Thanksgiving Campout”, but I know I had to lobby for several years to get everyone on board with the idea.   We live in Nebraska where the weather on Thanksgiving Day may be 65 degrees and sunny or it may be 20 degrees and snowing; so trying to plan an outdoor activity is a bit sketchy.  2008 turned out to be the year that I had everyone convinced that an outdoor Thanksgiving was a good idea and that the long-range forecast looked promising.  Plans for the extravaganza were made

As I mentioned before, weather in Nebraska is quite changeable, so during our planning stages, we felt an exit strategy would be prudent.  At that time, our families were camping in tents and pop-up campers, so heat was an issue.  Water was also a concern because many campgrounds in the area shut off water for the winter months to prevent damage to pipes.  We chose a large state park about 30 minutes away from home because we could abandon camp easily and they kept water on at one location within the park.  We made reservations, planned a menu, and kept an eye on the forecast.

The forecast held with highs in the mid-40’s and sunshine, which meant that with a little planning, we were good to go.  We all packed up our camp gear and headed to the park the day before Thanksgiving.  Mom and I had planned a traditional menu and had even brought along things to dress up the holiday table.  I had visions in my head of a Norman Rockwell-esque table, but in the outdoors.

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Thanksgiving Day arrived.  Tasks were divided and we all began preparations for our big feast.  The kids were sent out with a pair of scissors to gather some grass and branches for a centerpiece for the table.  We planned to cook all of our regular Thanksgiving treats, but with a twist…everything had to be cooked outdoors.  My mom, sister, and I were in charge of cooking all the side dishes in Dutch ovens and on camp stoves.  My dad fashioned a giant Dutch oven from a clean galvanized steel trash can turned upside down over the turkey.  Since we had a limited number of Dutch ovens, Mom and I had baked the pies in Dutch ovens the day before.

The table was set, the centerpiece was in place, the turkey was carved, and we all sat down around the picnic table to offer our thanks to God for our blessings.  We were all wearing hats, jackets, and long johns under our jeans, but the sun was shining as we dug into our turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, stuffing, green beans, and pumpkin pie.

The outdoor feast took more planning and was a lot of work, but it was worth it.  All day long we were engaged in working together, enjoying the outdoors, laughing and playing together instead of sitting on the couch.  That evening, we sat around a warm and wonderful campfire.  My sister even tried to start a sing-a-long!

Although it was chilly, we all agreed that was a wonderful Thanksgiving.  Not everything went perfectly – someone melted a hiking boot on the fire ring and someone ran out of propane – but these are the things family legends are made of.  In the years since, we have camped one other time on Thanksgiving.  It is not something that we can accomplish or want to do every year, but I no longer have to convince everyone that it is a good idea.  Early in November, someone always asks if we are planning to camp this year.  The memories we made by “shaking things up a little” have been priceless and are considered another blessing to be thankful for.

This year, we will be dining indoors regardless of the weather, but I know we will reminisce about our fantastic holiday campouts and maybe even thumb through a scrapbook we made after the first one.  Weather permitting, we will build a fire, play a classic Christmas movie on the side of the house (with thanks to my techno-geek husband), and sip hot apple cider.  We have so much to be thankful for:  health, our great country, food on the table; but most of all, we are thankful for each other.


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