Being away from home during the holidays can conjure up a lot of feelings for students and their families. For this reason, we take great care to make Thanksgiving a special day, filled with opportunities for sharing tasty food, meaningful connections, and fun!
The holiday preparations begin early in the day. Groups work together to build fires with smoldering coals to cook the Thanksgiving feast. Turkeys roast slowly in Dutch ovens throughout basecamp and everyone chips in to prepare traditional Thanksgiving dishes: sweet potatoes with candied pecans, fresh sautéed vegetables, stuffing, green beans, gravy, cranberry sauce, and, everyone’s favorite—bacon!
In years past, teams have then gathered to participate in special events and games, such as the annual “bust-off,” a good-natured competition to see which team can build a bow drill fire the fastest. Each team arrives with its best spindles, fire boards, bows, and nesting. The Utah desert buzzes with energy and activity as the teams race one another. Cheers and laughter erupt when the first flames first appear.
Celebrations have typically culminated in a community-wide talent show. Talent show acts have ranged from the satiric and playful to contemplative and poignant. Students create choreographed dances and fun skits about life at Open Sky. Others have shared original poetry and heartfelt speeches. Though things will look a little different this year without community-wide gatherings due to COVID-19, we look forward to new and creative celebratory traditions emerging within individual teams to make the day special and memorable.
“Thanksgiving was the first day in my life I felt supported and safe enough to get up in front of a group and share my own voice,” shared Laney, an alumni student. “I’ll never forget the empowerment and love I felt on that day. I never knew a group of strangers in the desert could make me feel so at home.”
As the sun goes down and the stars come out, the teams enjoy one last delicious treat of apple and pumpkin pie and shares “gratitudes.” It is a daily practice at Open Sky to share what we feel grateful for–family, friendship, the desert, food, fire, life, and fresh starts. On Thanksgiving, this tradition feels especially powerful.
“This time things felt more genuine than they ever had within our small group,” Laney said. “I still missed my family, of course, but I knew that nothing could replace the memories and experiences I was creating within my wilderness group.”
Each year during Thanksgiving, our hearts are filled with gratitude: for the students on their journey of self-discovery; for the parents who trust us to care for their children on a holiday such as this; for the field guides, away from their own families in order to create an impactful experience for our students; and for the blessings of each new day.
Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Open Sky!