The Year We Had Thanksgiving in July

Joey Rizzolo
3 min readNov 26, 2020

In 2018, we found out that my father’s favorite holiday was Thanksgiving, so on July 13th of that year, we had Thanksgiving early. He had stage four cancer and his (ultimately accurate) estimation was that he would not have the cognition — or frankly, the pulse — to appreciate a Thanksgiving in November.

Everybody put their lives on hold that week, abandoning work responsibilities and making impromptu travel plans in order to gather for an ad hoc holiday. Finding a whole turkey in July was no small feat, but my aunt managed to procure one through our local butcher, though scarcity meant we were stuck with a bird three times larger than what we would prepare in any other year just so my dad could have a Norman Rockwell moment.

In July, the white noise of a football game to which nobody pays attention didn’t drone from the television, but since nobody pays attention to the game anyway, the distinction between a July Thanksgiving and November Thanksgiving was unnoticeable; we ignored the hospitality of every other room in the house and circled the kitchen like drones around a hive, we yelled at each other in warning to avoid discussing politics, we yelled at each other when we ignored each others warnings and ultimately discussed politics anyway, we prepared far more food than was reasonable to consume, and we sat down for a meal, all of us together, for the last time.

My father seldom indulged in the theatrics of a speech, but he broke precedent that day, and before we began our July meal, he thanked everyone for being there. It was the only time I saw my dad cry. When the meal commenced, he ate like a bird. He assembled his plate with next to nothing, and even those scant contents were hardly touched. I joked that it was just like my son of a bitch father to demand a huge meal when he knew damn well that his cancer would ensure he’d take two bites before pushing his plate aside.

But it was never about the food.

By the time the November Thanksgiving rolled around, our family was down by one. We still gathered on the fourth Thursday of the month, but the holiday ritual felt hollow and unnecessary. It was as though we were repeating a wedding ceremony just because the groom’s cousin didn’t remember to charge the battery in the video camera. Our real Thanksgiving had already come and gone. When so many people sit down together to break bread that you have to daisy-chain the room with card tables and mismatched chairs, you’re already in the presence of grace, no matter the date.

This was the most important lesson I learned from my dad: family — its makeup, its rituals, and the manner with which we honor one another — is only what we make of it. The calendar is irrelevant. The practices of others are irrelevant. The whole of creation is not on tiptoe in anticipation of an arbitrary date. It is enough that we show gratitude to those that we love, whenever we can.

It is, in fact, the only thing that is ever enough.

The author and his dad