There’s something about being thankful that nourishes the soul. Yet, thankfulness is an ever-diminishing virtue in our society. Considering this, it’s nice to have a holiday at least once a year that reminds us to appreciate the things for which we are most grateful.
Many of us have established traditions to help make this holiday both memorable and meaningful. Do you have any Thanksgiving traditions you’re especially fond of? For me it was experiencing special times with my extended family, eating great food and enjoying lots of laughter.
One of the greatest things about Thanksgiving is watching the football games with a full belly. But what about the players? They rarely get a chance to enjoy the day quite like we do. Have you ever wondered what the holidays are like for those who always have to work through them to entertain people like you and me? To give you an idea of what it’s like for NFL families, I asked Cleveland Browns punter, Reggie Hodges and his wife Arin to share some insight into how they celebrate the holidays.
Like many of us, this young couple enjoyed memorable Thanksgiving traditions growing up. Reggie recalls how his grandmother would always bring her apple pie (the best he’s ever had to this day) and her famous homemade vanilla ice cream. For Arin, every Thanksgiving was a rare occasion when most of her relatives got together to share a fun-filled time of love and laughter.
Since being in the NFL, Reggie and Arin have had to deal with a lot of changes to their Thanksgiving traditions. Because of the need for them to remain in Cleveland to train with the Browns, it has been nearly impossible for them to visit family members in their hometowns. Being in their sixth season in the NFL, you would think they’d be used to spending the holidays on their own, but foregoing decades of tradition, hasn’t been easy, especially for Arin.
“Our first season away from my family on Thanksgiving was very hard for me. I didn’t even call home because I didn’t want to hear everyone in the background because I missed being around and seeing everyone so much. I wish that I could say that it has gotten easier, but the truth is, knowing that all of your family is together (which doesn’t happen much) and you can’t be with them is hard no matter how many years you miss.”
Other than the occasional times when family members make their way to Cleveland, the Hodges spend the holidays with close friends from the team. And being away from their extended families and the customs they’ve grown up with has led them to create their own traditions, making things special for their children, Christian (5) and Charlee (3).
For Arin, her earliest Thanksgiving memories have helped her to shape the way she celebrates today. She explains, “I specifically remember a Thanksgiving when I was really young and my grandmother had us all hold hands and (take turns) around the circle telling (each other) what we were thankful for. It seems very cliché, but my grandma said, ‘do it.’ So we did it. And it has become a tradition for our family ever since.”
As a result, this holiday of reflection has not only become an opportunity to teach their own children the importance of spending quality time together with family, it has also become a means of building self-esteem and teaching them the art of blessing others.
“Letting the kids bake a cake, or make cookies (is) something that they can be proud of. It helps cultivate an attitude of service to the other members of the family.” Arin says.
FAITH IN FOCUS
Still, the most important lesson Reggie and Arin teach Christian and Charlee during the Thanksgiving holiday, has to do with their faith in God. When asked how their faith influences the way they celebrate the holiday, Reggie responded, “We know Who to give thanks to on a holiday that is all about being thankful. That’s what we want to pass on to our children.”
Arin adds, “It is really important for us to make sure that our kids understand that we have been very blessed and that one of our biggest blessings is the ability we have to freely worship God without shame, or fear of loosing our lives. I want them to understand and appreciate that we need to be Thankful for all things good and the bad because the bad also will ultimately be used for the betterment of His kingdom.”
The Hodges find comfort in being able to share Thanksgiving and their faith with other Brown’s couples, like Usama and Gia Young. The Young’s also shared how their faith plays a role in the way they celebrate:
“Thanksgiving is a chance for us to think about how great God is and spread love to other people. We’re reminded regularly of how gracious He is, but often times it can be overlooked. Yea, we get to eat and spend time with family; but it’s also an opportunity for us to get out in the community and serve. We try to do that on a regular basis, but there’s something special about getting out and helping people in need on Thanksgiving. God has blessed us with so much. This is one of the smaller things we can do to show we appreciate Him.”
So, there you have it. Not only an inside look into the traditions of an NFL couple, but also a look inside their hearts. In a culture where there is indifference towards pro athletes due to the perceived arrogance and self-centeredness of a few, I hope this story raises some eyebrows as you’ve witnessed a couple of families who exhibit gratitude for their many blessings, a heart to instill like values on the next generation, and the desire to give back by helping others. In a culture where “Black Friday” is diminishing the spirit of Thanksgiving, it is nice to see couples who manage to keep the holiday’s focus true.
Written by Kim Anthony
Photos by Amy Headington of Images of Grace