My two favorite holidays are the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. I love them because they involve food and family and no presents. 2012 has brought me two very different versions of these holidays (that I also love because of their predictability).

Matt and I spent the Fourth this year with an explosion of family and memories I knew I’d treasure forever even as they were happening. We wanted to celebrate our wedding with our Oman, Passint, and Nelson relatives in Little Girl’s Point, and as the party continued to take shape, it outgrew our wedding and became a reason to gather family together for some long overdue reunions.

It was also an important year for my parents, who celebrated their 30th (30th!!!!) wedding anniversary on July 3rd. My sisters and I planned- and with the help of our families, pulled off- a bit of a surprise outing for them to celebrate.

If you know my parents, you’ll know these things are true about them: First, they love Seinfeld. It is because of them that I have a deep affection for and knowledge of that incredible show. Second, if you visit them up north, they will take you to their favorite place, Harbor Lights, for pretty awesome homemade pizza and cheap pitchers of Leinie’s. These two facts had to be part of our plan.

If you are my parents’ daughters, you know that there were rainbows on their wedding invitations. You also know that at their wedding, at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Minneapolis, there was one song that my mom wanted played, but unfortunately, their wedding band wouldn’t play it. It was this song:

Speaking of Holy Rosary, this is an artist’s (my sister, Becca’s) rendition of the church. Her medium? Paper cut-outs. Please note the tiny mustache on my Dad’s face, which had to be secured using tweezers. With Andrew’s help, she also made this kick-ass rainbow cake:

So we started with dinner at Harbor Lights: the usual, one supreme pizza for every two people and basically the same ratio of pitchers.
Ah, the tinsel-covered aluminum pole. You might be wondering about that. If you’re a Seinfeld fan, you’ll get this sacred reference (and rest assured, Alisa yanked off the tinsel, declaring that she finds it very distracting). If not, well, there is nothing I can do for you. But the pole began the Airing of Grievances “against” my parents and the amazing love and skill they demonstrated while raising (and continuing to raise) us. The nerve.  

Their reaction to the pole. Possibly my favorite picture of the whole evening.
Many folks took a turn at the pole. If you know any Nelsons, Omans, Osts, Olsens, or Wilsons, this probably does not surprise you at all.
My grandpa, who prefaced his toast with, and I quote: “I don’t need no stinking pole.”
Afterwards, we showed them a video I’d made to thank them for all they’ve taught us, which, at 3 minutes long, is far, far too brief. But it still makes me smile to watch.

We finished dinner with the rainbow cake, which looks delicious, but was actually even more delicious than you’d expect.

My grandma accompanied us on her spoons while we sang “Happy Anniversary to You!”…and then, sassy grandma that she is, she revved us up for one more round.

I mentioned the Carly Simon/James Taylor tune earlier…don’t worry, we planned for that, too. Matt learned how to play the song on his guitar, and one morning while both of my parents were away from the cabin, we practiced the song as a group. And then we sang it. (And I am choking up even now at the memory.)

There were some tears.
But mostly smiles.

And during the party that followed on the Fourth, under blue skies and between bites of a yummy picnic lunch and conversations with relatives I hadn’t seen in years and years, I thought that it was probably the finest Fourth I’d ever spent.

We gathered on the lawn of my great-grandparents’ house, the home my grandma and her siblings grew up in. My great-aunt Diana led the charge early in the summer to paint the house a brilliant, Scandinavian blue. My parents planned the luncheon, invited our family and neighbors from the Point, and were the most welcoming and jovial hosts. My mother-in-law performed an unexpected and poignant ceremony in which Matt and I promised to be good stewards of the Point, where so much Nelson family history resides, forever. We readily agreed.

So it was pretty much an awesome Fourth of July. Everything I love about the holiday, times a bajillion.

We Nelsons, of Swedish and Irish blood, tan really well.
Flash forward to this week, where I’m spending my other favorite holiday in another way that is unusual for me. First of all, I’m on a different continent. Second of all, the only family I have here is Matt. Third of all, sweet potato casserole and stuffing in Paraguay? Yeah, try again.
And I am sad! I love Thanksgiving with the Hogans in St. Paul, where I normally am. Matt had to work today, so I spent much of the day alone, reading Thanksgiving Facebook posts and tweets about family and pictures of the food that I love. All I could think about was what we’d be doing if we were home. Granted, I was reading a book in my swimsuit by a beautiful pool in 100-degree weather, so it wasn’t some tragedy, but I did (do) really feel a lot of nostalgia for the holiday that we’re missing. I didn’t expect to feel so sad.
Thankfully, Matt was able to come home a little early from the plant, and one of the first things he did was call my parents. (People, this is a man who gets me.) Hearing their voices was exactly what I needed. We called his folks too, who were hosting dinner for the Ost-Olsen crew. Unbelievably fortifying to touch base with our peeps.
We’re having dinner tonight at a fancy-schmancy restaurant in Asunción and celebrating in our own way. And the truth is, while I have sadness at what we’re missing, there’s no other way we would have been able to spend our first married Thanksgiving together. That is really important.
And I wouldn’t feel sad if I didn’t have something back home to miss. To our family and friends, thank you for being our most important teachers and our enthusiastic cheerleaders. We love you. We are grateful.
Happy Thanksgiving.

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