Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. This holiday is filled with great food, time spent with my family, memory-making, watching football, and the promise of continued tradition in the years to come. My family always gets together but the best part of our traditions is that they are a work in progress as our family grows larger. Some of the food is the same but thanks to our large family, many new dishes find their way into the line-up each year. Plenty of the fun we have comes from reliving memories of years gone by and looking forward to how our children will enjoy these traditions as they grow as well.
My family is one that has always been very close, both physically and relationally. My mother and father went to the same high school; although they didn’t meet until after graduation. As my sisters and I grew up, we spent time each holiday with both my mother’s family and my father’s family. We looked forward to quality time with both sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I will admit that we did like one side of the family more than the other and my favorite memories of the holidays and the Thanksgiving traditions that have really stuck came from that side of the family. Although there have been only six years out my life that I haven’t spent Thanksgiving with my own family, I have always carried at least one of their Thanksgiving traditions with me, usually as many as I could. They mean so much to me, I think, because most of my favorite traditions were started before I was even born.
Thanksgiving isn’t much without good food and we had that in abundance. My grandmothers both knew how to do great turkeys and on one side of the family there was always a ham as well, for those that didn’t like turkey. Different varieties of vegetables would grace the table but two staples were always the cloverleaf rolls and the marshmallow-covered sweet potatoes. I am sure that other families have similar traditions of food for Thanksgiving but these are so important to me that the few times that I had to have Thanksgiving away from the large mass of my family, I still prepared the full meal with turkey, ham, vegetables, rolls, mashed potatoes, and sweet potatoes! That doesn’t even include the apple and pumpkin pies with homemade whipped cream. Yes, food is definitely an essential part of my Thanksgiving traditions.
Probably my absolute favorite Thanksgiving tradition was the annual Christmas tree-cutting. Most years this adventure happened on the Saturday after Thanksgiving; although I know there were some years when Friday or Sunday worked better. My sisters and parents and I would pile into the minivan (earlier years found us in a station wagon!) and head over to my nearest aunt’s house. My mother had two brothers and two sisters and all of their spouses and kids and my grandparents would gather in various vehicles, all warmly attired, for the half an hour drive up to the land of the Christmas tree farms. I believe there are five or six farms within 10 miles of each other and we definitely made the rounds over the years.
Upon arrival at the chosen tree farm, all of the family would pile out and disperse to find their perfect tree. I remember leaving mittens and scarves on trees to mark them as contenders. One year we even left my sister by a tree and made her think we forgot about her! Once the trees were chosen and cut and dragged to the trail for pick-up, we would trek back to the cars and vans for hot chocolate, mint fudge, chex mix, and lots of fun. If there was snow, a snowball fight inevitably ensued. After all the trees were properly stowed, we would head back to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving leftovers.
Other festive Thanksgiving traditions included taking down the fall decorations and replacing them with Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving. I vividly remember sipping hot chocolate and listening to Christmas music all-day-long as we traipsed the stairs to and from the attic. As a family, we never really got into Black Friday but there were a few times that I remember Daddy taking us girls out shopping for Mom’s presents. I suspect that was more to give Mom some time to herself than anything else.
Now that I have my own children and I am back in my home state, I am fully immersing them in all of the Thanksgiving traditions that I enjoyed growing up. They get to spend time with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, They get to enjoy the bounty of the Thanksgiving table, and the joy of cutting down a fresh Christmas tree. Fall decorations come down the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas decorations go up amidst hot chocolate and Christmas music. It’s the way it should be and hopefully always will be.