The evolution of Thanksgiving traditions

December 2, 2012

By the time this hits print, Thanksgiving will seem like a distant tide, swept out by Christmas lights and trees, leaving a print of mashed potatoes and turkey soup in our refrigerators.

 

It has long been my favorite holiday – a time to enjoy a leisurely, colorful meal with family and friends. It is not hurried, as preparation for the bird and its flock of accompanying vegetables takes time. People do not expect to eat and run (although they sometimes now run and then eat!). What I find interesting is the way that tradition intersects with evolution, and how that is expressed differently by each family, each year.

 

I am puzzled when someone says, “it’s always done that way in my family; of course we will continue,” whether they are referring to the meal taking place at a certain person’s house, or who will go, or what time the meal will  happen or even which particular sides will be present and how they will be prepared.

 

Yet we count on some of these things as a way to mark the occasion. (Dad always makes

mashed potatoes, or Aunt MaryAnn always makes a huge apple pie).  We take offense when someone wants to make a change, although some change is inevitable. People move a big distance, or get married and have another family to involve, babies are born or people die. All of these create shifts.

 

As I was considering our Thanksgiving menu, it started to sound like a meal for the very very young or very very old. If the potatoes are mashed, and the rutabaga (my husband’s tradition) and we mash squash and sweet potato, we could put it in jars and slap a Gerber label on it all. Okay not really, but it did inspire some alternative roasting of vegetables so we could identify what they are, and the use of some fancy balsamic vinegar and cranberries to dress them up. My husband cooked a bird in the oven, and also split and grilled one, his favorite experiment to date.

 

This year, our guest list included my brother-in-law’s fiancée’s family, which was a great way to meet and get to know them. Although my sister was not able to make it, we were able to achieve some balance of the traditional (including Macy’s parade and football on the television in the other room), and a surplus of treats, with the new (more family members, different pies and salads, eating in the middle of the afternoon). My brother-in-law’s new mother-in-law-to-be remarked how nice it was to have all us “young people” doing all the work.

 

So, although there will inevitably be shifts and changes in personnel, timing and the exact menu, we know that we can maintain the spirit of breaking bread, telling stories, and being together for this space and time. It is a time to listen, to pause, and to notice our particular bounty. I just hope that as time goes on and I lose the ability to make some of the choices, that I can be graceful about accepting the evolution in all these areas. If I can focus on what is most important, perhaps I can remain grateful for what is, and not worry too much about what can no longer be.

 

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