Gather ‘Round

Orlando, FL | Gainesville, FL | Hilton Head Island, SC | Savannah, GA

You know the holidays are upon us when you begin running into high school friends in your hometown who you haven’t seen in ages, book up your week with plans with three different groups of family & friends, and eat your body weight in heavy, American food.

For someone like me who spent last year’s holidays on the opposite end of the world in Australia, the holidays take on a different meaning this year. As I begin to make plans with friends who are spread out all over the country and help my mom with Christmas decorations, I remember what it feels like to be absent from family and friends for the holidays. Despite all the changes that happen throughout a year for a person, Thanksgiving and Christmas are two celebrations that have the power to bring everyone make together year after year – except in cases like mine last year.

I think back on the gatherings and traditions I skipped out on last year but also realize how cool it was to experience the same togetherness and joy in a place and with people that put a spin on the holidays as I knew it. I wasn’t in Orlando, Florida to continue the holiday traditions with my family or have reunions with close friends but I was able to see how a loving home and a joyful celebration can be experienced thousands of miles away from that one, true “home”.

Of course I am enjoying being back home and returning to those same traditions and people I am so used to sharing the holidays with, but not without remembering the Australian families who opened their hearts to me and James last year. It was a different kind of holiday season but special because it was different.

My first hometown holiday gathering this year was a big meet-up at a craft beer bar in downtown Orlando called Redlight Redlight with high schools friends the night before Thanksgiving. We had about twelve people at the table there to reconnect with their Orlando friendships. We all live different lives now but to be able to sit down again together where it all started and share where our lives have taken us was a true blessing. The night lasted longer than planned with an adventure into the bar-heavy part of downtown Orlando but of course, no regrets.

Thanksgiving day was spent at home in the company of my immediate family, including my pregnant sister-in-law, Heather, my grandmother (Meme) and my aunt (Nannie) who lives in Utah. It was a treat to have my aunt with us this year and we all had fun taking pictures, eating multiple rounds of meals, and receiving visits from good neighborhood friends. It’s always special to be in the company of the people who have known you the longest.

Heather and little Jacquelyn in her belly

After that, it was off to Gainesville for a reunion with sorority sisters for the UF vs. FSU game day weekend. We visited our favorite old bars and embraced the new ones, with hours spent on the dance floor each night. We brought out our Gator jerseys and paraded around Gainesville like the Wolfpack had never left. Although old and removed from being “college kids” now, being together made things feel more like the good ole times again. I appreciated how we all made the time to come together and relive the glory days of college. I’m so grateful for those girls and for our ability to stay connected despite our distances from each other.

Gainesville, Gators, UF v. FSU
The “Wolfpack” on Game Day
The Social, Gainesville
Reunion @ The Social, Gainesville

The finale of the “Thanksgiving reunions” was a roadtrip up to Hilton Head Island, SC with James to spend a few nights of vacation with my parents. James got to see the place where I spent many Thanksgivings growing up and where I made of many memories with my Granna and Grandad, who are both now in Heaven. Although it’s more of a retirement community than a 20-something destination, we both enjoyed great meals with my parents, a long bike ride on the island, drinks by the pool and many chats in the hot tub. It was cool for me to have us all together and share those relaxing couple days by the ocean.

Harbour Town, Hilton Head Island
James and I in Harbour Town, Hilton Head Island
Hilton Head Island, sunrise, beach
Sunrise in Hilton Head Island, SC

On the way back down to Florida, James and I spent an afternoon and evening in Savannah, GA. We jumped straight into to the Savannah experience with an incredible, southern home-cooked meal at a restaurant called Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room, located in the basement of a traditional Savannah house. We found it from Google but once we got there, we realized how special of a place it was. We ate another big meal, with 21 dishes to choose from in front of us, and enjoyed the unique experience of the family-style restaurant. We ate around a table with strangers from all over the country who fell just as in love with the place as we did.

Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room, Savannah
Our table at Mrs. Wilkes

That late afternoon and evening we visited SCAD Museum of Art, took a nice stroll through Forsyth Park, and then pre-gamed in our downtown hotel room with wine, goat cheese and Michael Jackson music videos until we were ready to take on the town. We started with drinks on top of the Bohemian Hotel overlooking the riverfront, got food, and then went to a couple more bars before deciding that drinking and dancing in our hotel room sounded much more fun – so that’s what we did.

The next day we had breakfast at a French cafe and walked around the riverfront until it was time to drive back to Orlando for James to catch his flight that night. Before dropping him off at the airport, we fit in one last dinner with my mom and my aunt at Rocco’s Tacos. They loved spending the time with him since it is not often they can have us together.

So many memories were packed into that one week and I’m beyond thankful for all of them. Where I’m at in life is not yet where I want to be but knowing I have such a strong support system and so much to be thankful for definitely helps. Tomorrow it’s back to work as the hustle continues and the job hunt out west resumes. But this time, with an extra grateful heart.

– Annaleigh





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