Since I became a vegetarian 21 years ago, I've consistently found myself left out of the Thanksgiving meal.
Aside from my obvious disinterest in the main dish, many of the sides are cooked with meat or a chicken-broth base.
My Mom has never been big on cooking, so we always went to a relative's house where I had little to no control over what went on in the kitchen.
I often felt too shy or too silly to ask about the ingredient list for nearly every dish on the table. So, I would suffer the strange glances at my plate of cranberry sauce and dinner rolls.
Once I grew old enough to care about my weight, I started joking that it's the one day of the year when everyone gains weight, while I lose it. I think it was my way of making light of the fact that I did feel pretty left out.
When people would get excited about Thanksgiving, I couldn't relate.
The holiday brought me anxiety and frustration as I tried to smile politely, laugh and pretend I'd never heard all those comments like, "you're really missing out" or "what do you eat anyway?"
That all changed five years ago when my husband and I celebrated our first Thanksgiving together.
We lived in Reno, NV, and we couldn't afford the pricey plane tickets home. It's a big tradition with his family, and I could tell he was pretty bummed about it.
So, we decided to make our own meal with a few friends who were also on their own for the holiday.
Since it was finally going to be my kitchen, we were going to play—at least a little—by my rules. We cooked some stuffing outside of the bird using vegetable stock, and we made nearly every side dish without using chicken broth or meat.
We did have real turkey, but no Tofurky—to be honest, it's never looked appetizing to me.
I was stuffed and content by the end of the meal.
That night it dawned on me that was silly of me not to share my Thanksgiving concerns earlier. My husband's family and my own have become wonderfully accommodating to my dietary restrictions since I spoke up.
My Mom was even surprised because she'd always assumed Thanksgiving just didn't interest me.
The whole experience taught me that the holidays are really about coming together with friends and family—even the vegetarian ones.