Lexington, KY -Growing up in a small suburban home with a panoramic view of the Columbus skyline, Thanksgiving’s overriding theme in our house was college football. The sounds of whistles and commentators contended with the beeps from the oven timer and whirl of the mixer. Inevitably, half time provided just enough time for a quick prayer and plate filling in the dining room before heading back to the game.
(Fear not, pigskin lovers, this article does not include five steps to eliminating football from Turkey day.)
A “Martha Stewart worthy” Thanksgiving my childhood memories are not. We lacked the crisp linen tablecloths and perfectly carved mini pumpkins filled with bisque. My parents also fell for that culinary lie in which all turkeys must be baked until every ounce of liquid has evaporated. Did you grow up eating one of those dry birds too? Do you still eat one of those dry bird? (If so, we need to talk.)
Nonetheless, my Thanksgiving holidays are filled with memories.
At the end of the day, what we hope to create with our families are special moments. Memories. Traditions. Some of these happen naturally or are instilled because American culture has given them to us (i.e. turkey, stuffing, football, the Snoopy balloon at the Macy’s day parade). What about taking holiday traditions to the next level. What about investing just a smidgen of extra time this year and the years to come to create your own unique family traditions?
Despite being an activist for all things homemaking and family, I have failed terribly in this area. When we moved to Lexington seven years ago, we spent that first Thanksgiving at Cracker Barrel with our 1-year-old son. Memorable, yes. But not really the “family tradition” direction we were going for.
With three little boys now under foot, we hope to take a more proactive approach to establish a couple of family traditions that will hopefully carry through for years to come, when we will have little grandchildren underfoot. Here are a few we hope to take on, and maybe you will too.
Throw the Pigskin
Dating back to the first intercollegiate football championship held on Thanksgiving Day in 1876, family football games in the yard are often a yearly tradition. Even if your gathering isn’t large enough to support a full-fledged pick up game, sons (and daughters) will never turn down the chance to throw the football with their dad while the pumpkin pie bakes.
Make a Gratitude Circle
Before Thanksgiving dinner, have everyone stand and hold hands in a circle (awkward to some, I know. But it’s just once a year. Give it a try.) Take a turn sharing what you are grateful for. If your guests are just too shy, ask everyone to write down their blessings on a piece of paper, which you can read before or during dinner.
Keep ‘Em Guessing
Each family generally settles into an established yearly Thanksgiving menu. Local food blogger Lori Rice (www.fakefoodfree.com) has started a unique family tradition by introducing a new dish or new way of preparing a familiar dish. “One year I shared sweet potato casserole with rum. Last year, it was Brussels sprouts with pastured bacon. This year is yet to be determined. The good news is my contributions are still requested, so we succeed at celebrating a traditional Thanksgiving that is also always evolving in a very good way.”
The Thankful Jar
This is a great idea for families with children but is just as meaningful for adults. This idea takes the gratitude circle to the next level. In the week leading up to Thanksgiving, encourage everyone to write down specific things they are thankful for on a small piece of paper and put it in an empty wide mouth mason jar or bowl. It’s easy to be thankful for the roof over our heads or a steady job, but challenge everyone to think deeper and express gratitude for things specific to their lives this year. Be sure to tell Thanksgiving guests that they too can participate and urge everyone to add to the jar often throughout the week. Read these expressions of thankfulness aloud before, during or after dinner. Save the notes year after year and you will have an amazing collection of family memories and reflections.
With Christmas card season just around the corner, the last thing you may want to do is sit down to write letters on Thanksgiving. But this year, and years to come, why not use that lazy Thanksgiving evening when bellies are full and a marathon of “A Christmas Story” is playing in the background to give thankfulness through a handwritten letter. It could be a note to a colleague or a family member. Or your family could write cards to local nursing home residents. Or it could be a letter of thanks to someone in the Armed Forces. The “Million Thanks” campaign shows appreciation for our U.S. Military men and women through our letters, e-mails, cards and prayers. (www.amillionthanks.org).
There are so many people we can share a bit of gratitude and thankfulness toward, and I can’t think of a better time to do it than on Thanksgiving Day.
(Find plenty of Thanksgiving recipes, ideas and make-ahead menus at Megan’s website, The Art of Homemaking, www.ittysmitty.com.)