Thanksgiving at my parents house took place without two of their three children; me and my brother spent the holidays with our respective non-jewish significant other's families. At what point do my parents realize they have decimated our family by holding such a firm line on religion? Or do they never realize that? Me and my brother have resolved that if I end up getting this job near my parents we'll do our own Thanksgivings.
My parents also did not try to contact me in any way on or near Thanskgiving, they didn't invite me to thanksgiving dinner (although if I had invited myself I doubt they would say no), and they had no idea that I was even in Illinois.
Meanwhile, I met all of B's family out in Joliet, Illinois (where his cousins live). Including his cousin who is a race car driver, his other cousin who used to go on phish tour (yay for new hippie relatives!), and a whole slew of other people. We sat at the 'kids' table, although B, at 25, was the second youngest kid (the youngest was his sister who is 22). After dinner we 'kids' went to go play wii in the basement and me and B played some awesome rounds of tennis, and some less awesome rounds of some tank game. Everyone came together at some point to watch Forrest Gump in the living room. Later at the hotel me and B hung out with 2 of his cousins and walked around, talking about life.
There was no yelling, there was no talk of politics or religion (except when B and I were explaining to some cousins why my parents aren't coming to our wedding), there was no snarky comments thrown across the table, or under someone's breath, and there was no one looking miserable or uncomfortable or awkward. People wanted to hear about my crazy parents, and people wanted to talk about the wedding, and about my job prospects. I didn't have to pretend like B didn't exist, or that we didn't live together, or that we arn't getting married. I didn't have to limit myself to only talking about school. People were nice to each other, and they seemed happy to see each other, and seemed like they were close with each other as well.
In short, it was awesome. And the exact opposite of my 'normal' Thanksgiving experiences with my parents and grandparents and cousins.
'Normal' family gatherings at my parents house involve several arguments (usually about religion and/or politics, and usually between my charedi cousins and my MO cousins), several outwardly racist and/or sexist statements, my grandmother interrogating me about my level of religiosity and telling me that "education is all nice and good, but marrying a good Jewish boy should be your first priority", and otherwise trying to convince me to be more religious, my grandmother staring in my face and inspecting my ears to see if I have new piercings, and telling me to get rid of the old ones (I have 3 earrings in each ear), or (one year when I had an eyebrow ring briefly) telling me how no one would ever marry me if I had an eyebrow ring, and my mom making snarky comments about the way I'm dressed, or the way I live my life, or how much I weigh, or how my not-modest-enough-for-her clothes make me look fat (which is how my mom tries to get me to stop wearing them). And wearing what is basically a costume, and having to pretend that I'm in any way religious, because otherwise my parents would be mortified. More recently, those gatherings have involved snarky comments from my mom about how I can't bring home leftovers because I might give them to "that person you're living with".
But I've seen the other side, and how life can be if everyone acts like adults, and tries to have a fun family gathering instead of using it to air all of ones grievances. And a family where people are genuinely happy to see each other, and everyone catches up with each other, and isn't judgmental about everything. I have seen it, and it is wonderful. And I can't imagine ever choosing to go to my parents house for Thanksgiving instead of B's family. Even if they would have me.