When I was a kid, the size of Thanksgiving was measured by the size of
the quantity of food on the table.
In fact, my friends of Italian descent and I would compare menus,
listing the different foods paraded forward at the Thanksgiving table.
Why particularly my friends of Italian descent?
Because, if you are Italian, you may have had the experience of
Thanksgiving, an American holiday, including the preparation of not only
the traditional American meal but a traditional Italian meal.
Why have one meal when you can have two?
Who knows maybe the Indians and Pilgrims sat down to a lasagna and
So my friends and I would compare holidays by comparing menus. Only
after the entire menu was reviewed, including deserts, would the winner
be determined, as to who had the biggest sized Thanksgiving meal.
The other measurement of the size of Thanksgiving was how many people,
particularly relatives were at the Thanksgiving table.
We would review the list of those in attendance and the lists would
almost sound the same.
Yes my Uncle Tony, Uncle Joe and Uncle Sal were there, so was Aunt Mary,
Aunt Rose and Aunt Angela. Yeah , me too!
Then , of course, there was the question of how many cousins were at the
It was not an adequate sized holiday if the relatives in attendance were
not in the double-digits, because more was always better.
My family never understood the idea that less might be more.
What my friends and I never discussed was the size of the family fights.
My Italian experience was , as was dictated by Michael Corleone, in the
Godfather, to Fredo "You never go against the family."
So I never shared with my Italian friends, or any others for that
matter, that many a Thanksgiving ended up in a family fight with my
having to leave before I even got a look at the deserts, as my parents
hurried me out the door. Or maybe I should say my mother hurried us out
the door before fists started flying.
Afterall, you put a double digit sized group of Italian relatives
together on a holiday, any holiday, especially Thanksgiving where there
are only so many turkey legs, and a fight is likely. At least back in
the day, when it was not politically correct to allow people, especially
those related to you, to have their own opinions, let alone own voices.
So I developed a love-hate relationship with the holidays, especially,
The"love" part of the relationship was based on the fact that I loved
the promise of the magic of the holidays.
The possibility that once all the relatives were gathered around the
Thanksgiving table, we would magically become the peaceful, loving
family you see on the Hall mark holiday commercials. The love we had,
the peaceful remained to be seen.
And just when it appeared that maybe this was the year where we would
attain the aura of magic, a fight would brake out.
I would know all was lost when I heard the following: "Oh yeah, you can
kiss my a-- in Macy's window!" because none of those Hallmark holiday
commercials ever included that dialogue.
But I would be misleading you if I said that it was merely the arguments
between the relatives that made me focus on the size of the meal at
Thanksgiving, as opposed to the true importance of the holiday. Because
I am sure most of you have had at least one Thanksgiving turn into
No, it went beyond the chaos likely to follow at the actual Thanksgiving
dinner, It was the depression of the very person who taught me to look
for the magic of the holiday, that caused me to focus on the size of the
meal and the size of the food I was going to eat, my mother.
My mom, who I loved very much, and who died in April of 2001, suffered
with mental illness and depression. Unfortunately, anti-depressants were
not yet available and she was treated ineffectually with valium.
My mom waited for the holiday magic to take over but there was no
holiday magic that could ever overcome her own struggle with depression
and mental illness. She could not put aside her pain to be truly present
with my father and I, although she tried her best and succeeded in
numerous small ways, some of which comprise my fondest memories.
The "hate" part of my love-hate relationship with the holidays was, I
spent the holidays trying to read between the lines of my mothers words
and to read her facial expressions, as well as her mind, to determine
how the day was going to go.
Somewhere along the line it became easier to pretend that the real issue
was about how much food I was or was not going to eat.
It seemed safer to worry about how many calories I would consume at
Thanksgiving dinner than what was really worrying me.
My real worries were the following: Would my mother spend the day
crying, with me not being able to make her happy.
Obviously, therein lied the misconception that we can ever be
responsible for anyone's happiness but our own.
Would she spend the day fighting with my father? Would she refuse to
leave the house and our holiday would be cancelled?
Being obsessed about the food allowed me to steel myself against my
mother's depression and her need to act out drama in our home , as well
as the likelihood that the relatives would argue once we reached
wherever we were going, that is if she would agree to leave the house.
Somewhere along the line I learned to lose myself into the obsession
about how much food was I going to eat today. Would I eat too much?
Would I gain weight? Could I stay on whatever diet I was on? What if I
skipped breakfast and lunch would that leave me more calories to eat for
Thus began my tradition of making Thanksgiving about the size of the
food I ate or managed not to eat.
Fourteen years ago, at the age of 30 when I became tired of living my
life obsessed with how many calories I was or was not eating I started
to tell the truth about what I was really thinking about, every time, I
was obsessing about food. What I came to know is a s follows.
If I am at a Thanksgiving dinner, or any holiday dinner, a party or
event and my focus is on what I am going to eat or not eat, something
else is going on,
I am avoiding telling the truth about what I am feeling about the people
or places I am surrounded by.
This has even happened when things have been joyous and I have not known
how to deal with my feelings of joy or happiness.
Even with overwhelming feelings of happiness, in the past, I would
switch over to the food/ weight/ body size obsession.
Interestingly enough, it would happen whether I was wearing size 2
clothing or any other size.
So I learned the size of my holiday and my holiday meal really had
nothing to do with what size clothing I was wearing and how much food I
was going to eat or not eat.
The size of my holiday had to do with staying connected to myself and
being present with the people around me.
Whether that presence required me to open myself up to a particular
person to enjoy a connection or to establish a boundary and protect my
I could not longer hide out in the food.
I also learned, that although I still love the holidays and do consider
them magical, they can not bring magic to your heart if your heart is
Holidays do not transform your life.
Holidays are merely opportunities to share in traditions that are
important to you and or to make up your own holiday traditions to
celebrate marked days of the year.
The magic of each holiday is not in the holiday, itself, it is in the
magic of being true to our hearts.
Today, for me, Thanksgiving is truly about the size of my thankfulness.
My thankfulness is for all of my blessings and for all of my struggles.
In that the struggles, may not have seemed to be blessings at the time,
but have been blessings in disguise, because they have helped me to grow
into the size of the person I am today and to have exactly the size life
I have today.
Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.
I am thankful for all of you and for what you have added to the size of
Have a huge sized Thanksgiving, and have some food too!!!
Excerpted from "Size of My Life" by Karen Cigna. Copyright © 2011 by Karen Cigna. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.