It’s not really what I had in mind for Thanksgiving day, eating turkey off of a paper plate at a campsite. I would have preferred to dust off the fine china, rather than the bench of a worn picnic table.
But Thanksgiving isn’t only about a moist turkey and a well-set table. Holiday tradition can be whatever you create, wherever you create it, as long as it makes your heart happy.
Our little family of four has plenty of relatives, scattered across the country. But lacking the fortitude and frequent flyer miles to regularly hop on a jet at Thanksgiving, I used to find myself a bit regretful at the holiday, missing extended family and worrying that my two little boys were missing out on warm Thanksgiving memories and the company of their crazy relatives. Besides, it’s just not that much fun to polish the silver without a crowd to show up and see it shine.
Soothing myself with a piece of pie one of those turkey days, I told myself to quit moping. It was time to create some Thanksgiving memories for our family of four, something to anticipate and remember for years to come.
Fall came around again, and my husband was thinking along the same lines, or perhaps just trying to avoid my relatives. He suggested an outdoor Thanksgiving at our favorite cabin site, an easy two-hour drive from home. As the turkey chef in our house, he thought we could cook the bird and all the trimmings on the eve of Thanksgiving, pack it up, and reheat it at the cabin. I was torn. Take apart that beautiful bird and put it in some Tupperware? That should happen after we give thanks, not before. But it was an interesting idea and our boys liked the sound of it. After all, the Pilgrims and their Native American friends celebrated Thanksgiving outdoors, too.
So we set out on Thanksgiving morning, enthused and packed with Tupperware. We arrived at our cabin and immediately spotted the microwave, perhaps a bit smaller than we had recalled. It was, in fact, barely big enough to hold a bag of popcorn let alone heat up turkey, mashed potatoes and all the trimmings.
Oh well. In front of our cabin sat a sprawling lawn, perfect for that most important Thanksgiving past time, tossing the football. And with the pie baked, the turkey carved and the potatoes already mashed, we all simply relaxed. We read on the front porch of our cabin, the air crisp and clean. The boys played ball on the lawn and hunted tadpoles in the nearby creek.
The fresh air worked wonders for our appetites. I unpacked a selection of Thanksgiving-themed paper goods from Target and with the boys, transformed our picnic table into a Thanksgiving tableau, set among the beauty of blue skies and turning leaves.
Then came the microwave maneuvers. Reheating mashed potatoes proved a particularly slow process. I think the boys were on seconds or thirds by the time I made it out to the picnic table with my first plate. But the food tasted good outdoors in the fresh air. At sunset, we lit the fire pit and enjoy s’mores, conversation and a good game of Scrabble. A new Thanksgiving tradition had been born.
I doubt we’ll spend every Thanksgiving that way, the four of us outside with our microwaved mashed potatoes. Making that connection with relatives and friends is important too. But our new Thanksgiving was different, fun and all ours. Something tells me our boys will cherish their campfire-style Thanksgiving memories and may want to try it with their own kids some day. And that’s sweeter than pumpkin pie.