Hey, everyone! When this post goes up, Thanksgiving in the U.S.A. will be a few short days away. Ah, Thanksgiving – that time of year when we gather with family and friends to fall face-first into turkey and all the side dishes and many kinds of pie, and the dog steals food off the table… it can be great, and/or a source of so much stress! So. Let’s talk about changing traditions, shall we?
My parents were only children and their parents were already gone when my sister and I arrived, so it was just the four of us. My mother dealt with Thanksgiving by making reservations at a local restaurant. This seemed radical at the time, at least among my friends, although clearly we weren’t the only folks dining out. Most years we drove to an ersatz “country inn” with wood beams and decorative geese and scenic haybales and outbuildings; my sister and I loved it. One year we went to a very fancy Greek restaurant which I remember mostly because there were marble statues of naked people.
I didn’t cook the whole meal until I was married and had young kids, and for years we hosted a full, fancy sit-down dinner for my husband’s parents and extended family. As much as I enjoyed it, even then I resented the gendered division of labor, with all the women doing all the stuff, and the men doing … nothing, basically, beyond watching sports on TV and running the odd errand if we needed something from whatever store was open.
Months after my marriage ended I sat the kids down, and together we crafted a new tradition – one that, as it turned out, has endured longer than the formal dinners. We cancelled Thanksgiving. We skipped the entire meal except for pumpkin pie (the only part the kids liked) and instead I ordered pizza from our neighborhood joint. We devoted that four-day weekend to snacks, board games, and putting up our fake Christmas tree and decorating every inch of it and the entire house with gusto. We made paper garlands and those Moravian paper stars, and cut out snowflakes, and stencilled the windows. I got the old-fashioned multicolored outdoor lights which the ex-husband eschewed as vulgar; our theme was “Christmas threw up on the house.” Nobody had to dress up or clean up or behave. It was glorious.
That tradition lives on in Maine, although I’m not there for it. I’m going to an old friend’s house and bringing side dishes and desserts, and I’m looking forward to seeing her kids, all grown up now. I like to cook and bake, and I don’t have to host or clean up, so win/win. Several of my friends are in various stages of meltdown over hosting their families. A few of them are eating a quiet meal at home by themselves, or going off on a road trip for the weekend, the sort of stuff they did decades ago. Probably once or twice this winter I’ll cook myself the basics – turkey breast, stuffing, sweet potatoes, etc. (and of course a can of Ocean Spray cranberry jelly) because the funny thing is, I really like that meal. But I’m grateful it’s a choice and not an obligation.
I know this a US holiday (duh) but do you have a family tradition – for any holiday – that’s changed over time, for better or worse? Any special plans this week?