Traditions, Old and New

That dog’s just waiting for the right moment…

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?

  • Musette says:

    I am going to my new friends’ home for TDay. Bringing the Mac & Cheese, not spicing it up too much because I don’t know them and their friends all that well, yet – and I’ve found that down here my version of spicy is considerably different.
    I grew up with the traditional TDay blow-out (my mother was an astoundingly good cook) with all the attendant DRAMA that a cold-weather holiday brings. The cubs carried that drama forward. Yay.
    Looking forward to not being a part of any potential mayhem!


    • March says:

      This sounds lovely — I would totally chow down on some of your mac (and I’d be encouraging you to put some more spice in it for meeeeeee although you’re right, you don’t want to do that for regular folks!) I hope you have a drama-free rest of the week!

  • Dina C. says:

    I’m so glad you made the holiday fit your family, March, instead of shoe-horning yourselves into the holiday for all eternity. My family of origin did the traditional Thanksgiving, and I’ve carried on doing it ever since. My husband’s family always did the traditional one, too. Now that our parents are super seniors, our generation mostly does the cooking and invites them over.

    • March says:

      A traditionalist! Honestly … if my kids had enjoyed that meal, I’d probably still be doing it (no idea what their issue with the meal is, what’s not to love?!) I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  • cinnamon says:

    I never loved those huge get togethers. so much hype and stress — except the first real British type Xmas meal I had in NYC with a load of expats and all the trimmings. that was fun. but it was the mid-1980s, everyone got dressed up to the nines, we all got assigned one thing to bring, and somehow all the stress was bypassed. I know someone who is doing Thanksgiving for 16. Good luck to her. While I take Halloween seriously, Thanksgiving not so much. My son will be working on the day and not home till very late. He loves open turkey sandwiches (a result of having one in a NYC diner years ago) so I’ll get the makings in and he can go to town when he gets home. I’ll probably simply have a turkey sandwich. I love pumpkin pie but am not going to make it. If Sara’s bakery in Topsham offers it on the day I’ll buy a slice. At this point I think my ideal Xmas would be either going to a 5 star hotel and just revelling in whatever they had going or having Indian food and eating leftovers on Boxing Day. But as is I’ll be doing roast turkey dinner.

    • March says:

      Open-face turkey sandwiches, yummmmm — I assume we’re talking about ones served warm/hot with gravy? I make those myself occasionally… I’m surprised you can even buy a pumpkin pie given the way the judges at GBBO have reacted to pumpkin in the past! Indian food and leftovers sounds pretty wonderful, actually.

  • Portia says:

    LOVE what you and the kids made of Thanksgiving March. Sounds perfect.
    Jin, Kath and I are having a Xmas Day by ourselves this year. Super quiet.
    Xmas Eve we will have a small gathering of very close peeps.
    Boxing day we will spend with Kath’s family around the pool, cold cuts and salads.
    That’s still more than enough revelry for me. One day soon Jin and I will be overseas for the whole week of Xmas. Just us, calm and quiet in a snowy wonderland hotel.
    Portia xx

    • March says:

      It’s funny, I always have trouble envisioning you doing anything “super quiet” — I picture a party magically appearing around you wherever you are! Your Boxing Day sounds absolutely perfect. And yeah I can see the appeal of some Xmas week in a snowy climate in a gorgeous/charming hotel!

  • Tom says:

    I grew up with the traditional turkey day thing. I don’t care for turkey though. I usually just have pizza or pasta and watch old movies and maybe go for a drive with the top down if it’s nice out. I will have to do a couple of work things Friday and I will attempt To do them with good grace. I did get two cans of Ocean Spray cranberry jelly goop because they were on sale and I really do just love them. I’ve been leaning towards KFC as well. I adore KFC- it’s such good trash. If you and Anita were here we’d have to go to Roscoes. Hmmm.. wonder if they do curbside takeout? Smothered chicken and waffles? Now if the Puritans had that they would have been extra thankful…

    • March says:

      Hey, most places sell Ocean Spray year round — I’ve put it on turkey deli sandwiches in the middle of summer, sometimes it’s exactly what I want, they even make smaller cans of it. And KFC is the only fast food I hanker for (not deep-frying my own chicken.) Roscoe’s would be perfect, wouldn’t it?

    • Musette says:



  • Kathleen says:

    I like your Thanksgiving tradition with your kids, all bout fun and spending time together as it should be. After years of hosting family and friends, I canceled Thanksgiving as well. Too much one-sided work that I grew to resent. Now our tradition is a 3-day nearby getaway with hiking and relaxation. Much easier to focus on gratitude! And agreed, we can put a turkey in the oven anytime we like. Happy Thanksgiving!

    • March says:

      Your getaway sounds PERFECT. Some hiking and relaxation rather than days running around prepping for The Big Meal and feeling cross — much easier to focus on gratitude. Happy Thanksgiving.

  • Filomena says:

    I like your new tradition. Even though I somewhat enjoy the holidays when they arrive, as a solo person, I am always glad when they are over. Happy Thanksgiving!

    • March says:

      Happy Thanksgiving to you too! I feel like this year’s arrangement is perfect — I can do the baking bits I like, show up to someone else’s house for a few hours, and then leave. 🙂

  • Tara C says:

    We go to my SIL’s house for Thanksgiving, I bake buns and pie because that’s what I like to do. And my favorite part is pumpkin pie as well. 🙂

    Prior to this husband, I would go spend it with my parents and brother and assorted partners, but we never really invited anyone so usually it was the 4 of us. Now that I’m a 9 hour drive away there is no way I am driving or flying anywhere for either Thanksgiving or Christmas, after too many expensive travel nightmares.

    I spend Christmas and New Year’s blissfully at home alone with husband and dog. I am not a party girl.

    • March says:

      Pumpkin pie is the BEST. When the kids were with me I baked several over the course of the winter, not just for Thanksgiving; we used to eat it for breakfast. I hear you on the travel, I’m not going to Maine for Christmas either. Just too much hassle.

  • MMKinPA says:

    After 10 years of cooking and hosting for 12 family/friends, this year I ordered the full meal from the fancy grocery store. So I can actually enjoy the day rather than being sweaty and disheveled. All I have to is reheat. Planning on enjoying my morning coffee, watching the parades and the dog show, and generally being much lazier than normal.