Saturday, November 19, 2011

Wild Card Weekend : : Thanksgiving Traditions

Anne is off to visit her daughter's family for Thanksgiving.

When I was little every year we went to my grandparents' house for Thanksgiving. It was a tradition. And I have to admit that I wasn't crazy about it because mostly it was a lot of elderly

aunts sitting around expecting my grandmother to cook them dinner and my cousin and I to bring them whatever they wanted while they talked about people I'd never heard of, many of whom were already dead.

Then finally we got to eat -- and traditionally my uncle would comment on how dry or moist (he
alternated) the turkey dressing was.

And my unelderly aunt would say that she should have made more rutabagas, which I never ate, so I really didn't care if she made more or not. My great-aunt Martha would sneak out her hip flask and take a nip or two.

There would be pumpkin pie, which I also never
ate. And then we would do the dishes and go home.

My grandmother, poor dear long-suffering soul, was stuck with all the great-aunts for three more days because they always came from out of town, and they always stayed with her.

It's a wonder, really, that I love Thanksgiving

But I do.

And so did my grandmother, though it took me a while to understand why.

I began to appreciate it at university when, for the first time in my life, I didn't go home for the holiday. I stayed and worked in the library (it was my half-time job) at the university, and one of my co-workers invited me to her downstairs neighbors' place for dinner.

I was sure this was a terrible sacrilege. Invite someone from outside the family to Thanksgiving dinner? Ye gods. The roof would fall in.

No, she assured me. It wouldn't.

So, with trepidation, I went -- bearing my gift, which happened to be homemade chocolate chip cookies. They were for the couple who were hosting the dinner. I didn't expect they'd get served for dessert.

Was I surprised? You bet.

And even more surprised that the roof didn't fall in because such a 'non-traditional' item made it to the table. But the chocolate chip cookies were a terrific hit.

There were no rutabagas at that Thanksgiving. There were creamed onions instead. Again, the roof didn't fall in.

There was the traditional turkey and dressing, the cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes and gravy. But there were no aunts with hip flasks and Opinions. It was a true emancipation.

The next year, when I went back to my grandparents, I took ch0colate chip cookies.

The aunts loved them. So did my grandmother. I don't recall that my uncle commented on their moistness or dryness. But I know he ate some.

And I began to understand that the details were not as important as I'd thought they were when I was a child. It was something else that was going on.

Then we moved halfway across the country. We never had the aunts or even, sadly, my grandparents, at our table again.

But the spirit of my grandmother -- as well as her cranberry sauce recipe and her turkey dressing recipe -- remains.

Every year, in honor of my uncle, I comment on the dressing. My
daughter makes chocolate chip cookies.

My middle son used to mash the potatoes. And now that he's half a continent away, the second oldest grandson has been deputized in his place.

There are no elderly aunts, with or without hip flasks, anymore. But I think fondly of them now. In fact, I wish they were here.

I'd love to hear the stories they could tell. I wish I'd listened to more about all those dead people they knew. Chances are they were the people the elderly aunts shared thanksgivings with years before I was ever born.

I know now that some details stay the same. Some change. People come and go. But we remember them all.

The pumpkin pie has, in our house, given way to key lime -- unless someone loves pumpkin enough to make it and bring it to share. It's a new tradition.

But the most important underlying tradition -- that of sharing a meal and giving thanks for our blessings and each other, no matter who is around the table this year -- endures.

And while I'm the one and not my grandmother who is in the kitchen now, I don't feel put upon at all, just as I'm sure she didn't.

She did it -- and I do it -- because we want to. It's a joy to be part of this yearly celebration that brings us together to do the same things over again -- or different things if we want to -- because
it's the tradition of sharing that matters. It's a labor of love.

Do you celebrate Thanksgiving or a similar sort of holiday at your house? Do the details stay the same or change? Tell me about it. You may inspire a new tradition at our Thanksgiving this year.

Anne's most recent book, The Night That Changed Everything, is out this month as a Harlequin Presents Extra.

When Edie Daley and Nick Savas meet at a royal wedding, the last thing they expect is to spend the night together. Neither one of them is ready to have their world turned upside down. But that's what happened, while they were making other plans.


  1. Anne, I loved reading this! As an Aussie we don't celebrate Thanksgiving but our Christmas celebration fits the bill for the big family do. Yes, there's traditional fare but even in the years where that changes the family interactions and enjoyment doesn't.
    Looking forward to reading your latest book!

  2. Oh how I wish now that I had paid more attention to the stories my older relatives told. As I'm in that older category now I would appreciate knowing more about my ancestors.
    I used to hold a lot of the family parties when my parents were still alive. Now my older sister, who has 5 kids and 9 grand kids hosts the parties. I guess I'm the elderly aunt and my husband the elderly uncle.
    Since I'm Canadian we already had our Thanksgiving celebration this year. Sometimes everyone at the table takes a turn saying what they are thankful for. It makes for some unusual moments.

  3. Annie,
    Yes, Christmas is the double-whammy when we get to do it all over again four weeks later! But in many respects, as an adult, I appreciate Thanksgiving more because it isn't commercialized -- well, except for the vast amounts of food. It's just about thankfulness and family and whoever happens to be there, which is a great sort of holiday as far as I'm concerned.

  4. Kaylee,
    I know what you mean about the changing of the guard and now being at the elderly end of things. I still expect to get stuck at the kids' table! I'm always surprised when my husband and I are the old guard now.

    We've got 4 kids and 8 grandkids and I'd love to get them all together for Thanksgiving (or any time for that matter). But they haven't all been together since the last wedding five years ago. We rotate where we go. But I feel bad that the cousins don't get to spend much time together. Though they do -- some of them at least -- see each other in the summer.

    And I wish I'd listened better to the old aunts, too. I did listen to my grandfather and grandmother, so I have a lot of their stories. But I'd like to know more. It's why I do family history stuff, I guess. But I still know I've missed a lot by not paying attention. Most kids don't, I suppose. We realize later that we should have!

    Happy belated Thanksgiving (a month ago)!

  5. Kaelee, oops! Sorry I spelled your name wrong!

  6. Anne, what a lovely post! Makes me think of our family Christmases (because we don't do Thanksgiving in this neck of the woods!!). And how we all love getting together every year. Both my parents had miserable Christmases as kids so they made sure that our house was always full of gifts and friends and family and good food and good cheer (and rather too much alcohol!!). My dad died 19 years ago and never got to meet any of the eight (soon to be nine!!) grandchildren he now has, but christmas is still a very special time for all of us, and when we all remember him the most.

  7. Heidi, What wonderful memories you must have of wonderful Christmases. And how nice that your parents made a point of making sure that your Christmases were the kind you would want to remember. I hope you're keeping your Dad's memory alive for all those grandchildren. I'm sure he'd be pleased.