It’s a family tradition. Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, homemade rolls, pumpkin pie ... and, for me, it meant “sleeping over” the night before with my grandma.
Her house smelled like apples and cinnamon and, even though she was busy getting ready for the next day, she always made us a good supper. A hamburger steak, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn or green beans, and a cup of hot tea with lots of sugar.
I would awaken the next morning to the mixed aromas of roasting turkey and brewing coffee and, on my way to the kitchen, I would catch a glimpse of a massive Snoopy balloon floating across the TV screen. We would watch the Macy’s Parade for a while and then cook and watch awhile and cook. Those days are gone, but I can still call up those sights and smells with a small nudge and a poke.
“Family traditions are part of the ‘language’ of a family, a short-hand, symbolic way of relating that everyone understands,” Dr. Abigail Brenner wrote in a 2014 “Psychology Today” article. “As life moves forward and people grow and change, family traditions keep us connected.”
My memories connect me to the selfless, white-haired lady who was my mother’s mother.
Passing on traditions crosses all social and economic boundaries. It’s universal. And family customs are unique to each family. Mine do not need to be like yours and yours do not have to mimic mine.
That’s because traditions are about something bigger than ourselves. The need to belong lies deep within each one of us, young and old. Children especially crave the warmth and promise that comes with traditions.
A few years ago, I had an idea for a new tradition. So, a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, I sent an email to my husband, son, daughter-in-law, and daughter asking that each of us write a Thanksgiving haiku, which we could read them while we ate. (A haiku is a poem that has three lines, with five syllables in the first and third lines and seven syllables in the second line.)
You would have thought that I had suggested we hop on a plane and fly to Plymouth Rock with turkey and stuffing in tow. With hilarity and plenty of sarcasm, they shot me down. But guess what? I wrote one anyway — and it was fun and comical and awesome. Now, I read a haiku at each Thanksgiving meal during the past few years.
It is expected. And dreaded. But it has become a tradition.
The second year, I bought brown, orange, and yellow tissue paper. While sitting around the dining room table, all six of us made our own tissue paper turkey with googly eyes and pipe cleaner wattles. Yes, they were lopsided and a little wacky-looking, but nobody minded.
Whether you choose something simple like serving your mama’s mac’ and cheese or decide on a more laborious idea, like writing Thanksgiving poems, it makes no difference. It isn’t what you do that matters, it’s that you do something.
Me? I’m making a list…buy turkey, find mom’s recipe for cinnamon apples, get brown tissue paper, write haiku.
Dawn North’s original Thanksgiving haiku (2013)
Plates full, blessing said
At the table family sits
Missing those not here