Every year around this time, I pull out a dogeared folder that has resided in my desk for the last 20 years.
Inside is a menagerie of recipes that I have ripped out of actual magazines over the years, handwritten menus, and notes about the guests and the likes and dislikes from our previous Thanksgiving festivities. My folder is diary of every Thanksgiving dinner we’ve hosted and I always start my holiday season with a trip down memory lane.
For the better part of 20 years, our home has been the site of some raucous Thanksgiving meals, often with our table overflowing with 20 or more close friends and family. Toddlers who used to sit at the kids’ table have long since invaded our adult table.
Though it takes me weeks of preparation and days of cooking, the memories that I’ve created with my family and friends on those special Thursdays in November are among my favorites.
I have scoured Pinterest for interesting and complicated recipes and I’m guilty of serving more than my fair share of Pinterest-inspired turkeys made out of cheese and veggies (don’t judge).
Starting around November 1st, I am the Thanksgiving version of Clark Griswold and his Christmas Vacation visions. I’ve been known to say, “We’re going to have the hap-hap-happiest Thanksgiving ever!” And I mean it.
This year is going to be different, though. Thanks to the pandemic, we have chosen to keep our celebration centered at home, without our usual shenanigans. Our table will be less crowded, with only my husband and me, two teens, and a Shih Tzu who will be highly disappointed at the decline in offerings beneath the holiday table.
And it makes my heart hurt.
I’ve been feeling the loss of our traditional Thanksgiving festivities, but I didn’t realize that my teens were feeling it deeply, as well.
“Will we still watch the parade?” they asked, only to realize that tradition is on hold, too.
“Will you still make a big turkey dinner? I can’t make it a whole year without stuffing and mashed potatoes,” my son lamented.
Though we’ve assured both kids that we will, in fact, still be taking time to gather around our table to offer up thanks and gratitude, they still seem bewildered by the idea of a quiet holiday at home. They don’t know how to do a holiday without chaos, Pinterest, and the DIY videos with “easy” holiday recipes with only 43 ingredients. And that’s because the Thanksgiving meals in our home are very different than the Thanksgiving holidays I experienced growing up.
Celebrating a Different Thanksgiving
I remember a time when Thanksgiving preparation meant that your mother dusted off the amber-hued water goblets she saved for special occasions and then set the table with china that she’d pulled out of her hope chest.
My kids have never seen me make homemade Chex mix or eaten ambrosia made with Auntie Jane’s “special ingredient” (which we were all crushed to eventually find out was just Cool Whip). And we’ve never eaten Thanksgiving dinner on TV trays in the family room because the adult table could only fit four people.
As a kid, watching my grandparents drink screwdrivers and gimlets, I thought the rosettes of squeeze cheese nestled on Triscuit crackers were the height of fancy.
Times have changed since I was a teen. My kids and their cousins have never played charades or performed an impromptu skit as they impatiently waited for the turkey to come out of the oven. They’ve never even played a good old-fashioned round of family football in the crisp November air.
While I’m not saying that I’m going to make sherbet punch in a crystal punch bowl, I am going to find ways to help my kids realize that a quiet Thanksgiving at home is not a punishment.
Instead, it’s a chance to slow down and relish the simple joys of our favorite holiday—sautéed Brussels sprouts and all.
We will still have our favorite dishes, just on a smaller scale, and I’m going to track down videos of Thanksgiving parades from the past so that we can enjoy the balloons, hoopla, and the sight of Santa being ushered in at the end of the Macy’s parade. I might even dig out our movie projector and old movies and slides. It will be the perfect sentimental touch for our slightly different — yet still very traditional — Thanksgiving.
I’m definitely skipping the green bean casserole with those crunchy onions, though. Some traditions are best left in the distant past.