Thursday, November 20, 2014

On Thanksgiving Traditions

Like many people, I've been thinking a lot about Thanksgiving the past couple weeks. It started out with excitement. I sat down with G and planned out our menu, what dishes we love and had to have. It ended up being quite the dinner for two average-sized people. But I figured, it's Thanksgiving, the national eat-all-you-can-eat holiday, so what the heck? We'll roast the bird, whip the spuds, and make six more side dishes. Plus pie. You can't forget the pie.

But the closer we get to the day, now only a week away, the more the excitement has given way to what was hiding underneath all those plans: a bit of sadness and a tinge of loneliness.


This will be our first holiday as a married couple and it will be just the two of us. Our families and friends are not coming out to visit, and neither are we hopping on a plane to the West Coast. It simply isn't practical or feasible financially. At first I relished the thought of Thanksgiving (and Christmas) being just the two of us this year. No family drama to contend with. No deciding whose house to go to. The holidays would be quiet, intimate and special. We would start our own traditions, together, as husband and wife.

Growing up, G (who is an only child) and his parents often spent Thanksgiving at a relative's home, where the food and the activities of the day varied (sometimes greatly) from year to year. So as a result, he doesn't feel like he has a specific set of traditions that are important or meaningful to him to carry on. I, on the other hand, do. Though, I sort of grew up with two different holiday season experiences.

When I was very young, my extended family used to all gather at my maternal grandfather's house. A long table, probably 20-feet, would be set up for all of us. My mom, always a frazzled mess in the kitchen, would do much of the cooking, with some help (good and bad) from her brothers and sister. My paternal grandmother, Grandmama, would bring her chocolate pie, which I absolutely loved of course. It was like chocolate pudding in a crumbly graham-cracker crust. What's not for a kid to love? Once dinner was ready, all the adults would sit down at the world's longest table while us youngsters had our meal at the children's table in the kitchen, listening in through the wall as the grown-ups talked, invariably getting into some kind of argument, which is bound to happen when large families with large personalities come together. Those were the Thanksgivings of my childhood. Trade out all varieties of pie for rice pudding, add some carols and dancing around the Christmas tree while holding hands (seriously), and that was my Christmas.

But death changed things over the years. Grandmama went first, then my grandfather, whose home brought us all together. Our large family gatherings turned into small dinners with my immediate family, and sometimes my favorite uncle, at our home. When my older brother died the holiday dinners got even smaller, and much sadder for a time. Those were the Thanksgivings and Christmases of my teenage and college years.

It sounds depressing, and it is in some ways, but nevertheless I find myself wishing I could be home for the holidays. There were a couple years where I didn't spend Thanksgiving, or Christmas, with my family but instead with a boyfriend's family. But even then there was still the option of going home, or stopping by for a few hours. This year that option isn't there. And it likely will not be an option in many of the years to come.

I've always done my best to be home for the holidays because I hate the thought of my mom, my dad and my younger brother just sitting around the table by themselves. Perhaps it is a stupid and self-important thought but sometimes I feel like I'm my family's "glue." On holidays I help in the kitchen. At the table, they turn to me to say grace. My younger brother and my parents have not always had the best relationship, though it is getting better, and he can be quiet morose on holidays (he doesn't appreciate the expectation to pretend like everything is happy and perfect when he feels the opposite, and I don't really blame him). I'm not sure he is even going to go home for Thanksgiving, even though he lives just 20 minutes away. He may have to work or he just may not go, for the above stated reasons. So then it would just be my mom and my dad. Kind of like how it will be here. Just the two of us.


The plan for this post was to talk about Thanksgiving traditions. Keeping old ones, starting new ones. Instead I find myself clinging onto the old, even when the past was far from perfect. It's funny how distance can make you miss the things you didn't even know you cherished. Life is forcing me to change, to let go, and I'm a bit unwilling.

I'm hoping this purging of my thoughts and emotions will help with that letting go part, and let me get back to what I was feeling a few weeks ago: excitement. 

Initially, I told G that I wanted us to roast a turkey, a whole one, but yesterday I cooly informed him it was silly to spend the time and money (we'd need to buy a roasting pan and rack) doing something we have no idea how to do, only to be left with way more leftovers than we probably can handle. So now the plan is to simply make a turkey breast. And, having thought about it a little more, I'm OK with that. I actually like the idea of saving the big roasting of the turkey for when we do host a Thanksgiving dinner for family or friends or both, or when we have a little one whose eyes will widen at the sight.

We'll still make most of those side dishes. Mashed potatoes and stuffing are a given, but I also must have my mom's sweet potato puree and G loves green bean casserole. And we'll shove all the pies we're accustomed to having (apple, pumpkin and pecan) into one with this crazy recipe. Maybe it will be our new favorite, and a new tradition.

In the meantime, until next Thursday, I'm going to cut myself some slack. Our first Thanksgiving doesn't have to be an extravaganza. Small can still be special, and whatever we do this year does not need to be repeated forevermore. The best traditions often come about slowly and by accident, without even realizing a tradition has been made. And new traditions will be added throughout the years, as life changes-- because it certainly always does.

(Top image via The Kitchn, bottom photo from our engagement session, by heidi-o-photo)

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