"It's depressing to stay home alone," says Karen Roosenberg, 37.
The Roosenbergs had planned to continue the tradition this year, but they found out just days ago that Tim Roosenberg has been called to be pastor at Seventh-day Adventist Church in Gentry, Ark.
The Roosenbergs and their children - Heidi, 14, Jennifer, 12, and Michael, 6 - will be spending Thanksgiving with Karen Roosenberg's family in Louisiana before heading to Arkansas to look for a house.
Karen Roosenberg is happy she'll be able to see her family - the last time the Roosenbergs made it to her parents' home for Thanksgiving was 1989 - but she is sorry she will have to cancel the dinner invitations she had issued for this year.
The annual dinner has been a special event.
Sometimes they only had four or five guests, and one year they had 10. Some were single, and others were couples.
"We have all ages, from babies to grandmas," she says.
Dress for the occasion always has been casual, she says, as the emphasis has been on making everyone comfortable.
People don't always like to admit they don't have anywhere to go for Thanksgiving, she says. For that reason, they've been careful to respect their guests' privacy.
In past years, the dinner invitations were made by word of mouth. This year Karen Roosenberg extended her invitation in the church's monthly newsletter to the 500 congregation members, intending to move the event to the church fellowship hall if the group grew too large.
Their children, who are home schooled, have helped with the celebration by making decorations and playing games with other kids who attend. The Roosenbergs also occasionally have foster children.
In past years the children made name tags and place cards, and one year they used leaves to decorate the table.
Feeling at home
The Roosenbergs are vegetarians, and their favorite dishes for Thanksgiving include cinnamon apples basted in a syrup of red-hot candies, sugar and water; cranberry sauce; stuffed potatoes; wild rice; creamed pearl onions; peas and corn bread dressing.
To make guests feel at home, Karen Roosenberg inquires about their holiday traditions.
"I ask if they have a favorite comfort food, and I see if they want to bring it," she says.
Like most cooks, she worried that there wouldn't be enough to go around.
There always was plenty, but the celebration wasn't just about food.
Members of the group would describe the things for which they are grateful.
One year they had a slip of paper at each person's place. They passed each paper around the table, and everyone wrote down something they appreciated about that person.
Another time there were several kernels of candy corn at each setting, representing the few pieces of corn that were all the Pilgrims had to eat for Thanksgiving so long ago. Guests ate the corn after they said what they were thankful for, says Tim Roosenberg, 38.
Thinking about how little the Pilgrims had helped the modern diners remember their many blessings, he says.
Another tradition popular with the children was making treats for the birds by spreading peanut butter and seeds on pinecones. After dinner, the group sometimes went for a walk around the neighborhood.
The Thanksgiving celebration helped the Roosenbergs think of family members who were hundreds of miles away.
Karen Roosenberg says Thanksgiving always has been a big deal in her family. She has two brothers and one sister, and her husband has four brothers.
The Roosenbergs probably will continue the practice at their new church, which has a congregation of about 1,000, she says.
She says they find joy in welcoming others who may have spent the holiday alone.
"It's something we can share together," she says.