Thanksgiving 2.0: Creating A New Tradition


Thanksgiving.  Everyone’s favorite day to consume turkey (or Tofurkey, if you’re my friend Kara).  At my local retailers, I don’t see a lot of love for Thanksgiving.  Most of them have already decorated for Christmas.  Thanksgiving has morphed into just one element of this stew of magic and happiness that we call “The Holidays:” Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

Christmas is the real star of the show.  The presents!  The tree!  The endless hours of Christmas music!  I haven’t liked Christmas since my mother died, although I do my best to get into it for my kids.  After being in retail management for years and watching the extraordinarily bad way that people behave during the holidays, I don’t really like opening gifts anymore.  But the rest of my family loves Christmas, so I smile and I decorate accordingly.

And then, New Year’s Day.  I knew a guy who told me once that New Year’s Day was his favorite day of the year to get drunk.  I guess getting drunk on New Year’s Eve was too pedestrian.  Anyway, I find that January is filled with all of the intentions that the human race can muster.  We make resolutions, and we break them by the end of the month, resolving to take them up again for Lent.  Or, we heavily modify them.  “I was going to lose fifty pounds?  I meant five pounds.  Yeah.  And I’ve gained those back already.”

For me, however, Thanksgiving has always been the favorite.  At Thanksgiving, you don’t owe anyone anything except maybe a nice plate of sweet potato casserole.  You don’t have to shop for a gift that someone will probably just return or relegate to the basement.  Or, you don’t have to royally screw up your gift giving, like I did the year that I gave four jars of Vermont maple syrup to David’s diabetic grandfather.  At Thanksgiving, you bring your best dish or your bottle of wine, and you sit together and celebrate without any expectations.

I remember Thanksgivings with my mother’s family, surrounded by the warmth of laughter and easy conversation.  My mother’s turkey was always too dry, and my aunt always brought this strange pasta salad that only she consumed.  The cranberry sauce came from a can, so it kind of looked like a gelatinous glob of donated bone marrow.  Nevertheless, as the years go by, I remember less about the gastronomy and more about the joy.

Since we’ve come to New England, we usually spend Thanksgiving alone.  The day is just another day for us, albeit with a larger meal than usual. We make telephone calls to our relatives in Arkansas that are getting shorter and shorter every year.  I don’t mind spending Christmas alone with my family, but, for some reason, I hate spending Thanksgiving alone in Connecticut.  Thanksgiving is the one day of the year when I wish I could turn back the clock and recapture the family gatherings of my childhood.  I never had the sense to feel grateful for what I had when I had it.  Now, time, geography and misunderstandings have loosened a lot of family bonds.  I guess Thomas Wolfe was right.  You can’t go home again.

This year, we’re trying something different.  We booked a room at our favorite Vermont inn, the West Mountain Inn, near Manchester.  I love the idea of spending Thanksgiving on the banks of the Battenkill River and in the shadow of Stratton Mountain.  We will eat Thanksgiving dinner in the dining room with the other families who have also booked for the holiday.  The innkeeper was kind enough to email me and let me know that they had pasta and chicken fingers for my children, who have no appreciation for Thanksgiving cuisine.  All of this, for the price of one family member’s plane ticket to Arkansas.

I look down through time and imagine this Thanksgiving trip becoming a new family tradition.  I see Sam and Owen coming from college and meeting us in the inn at Thanksgiving.  Further down the road, I see them bringing their spouses and children to the inn.  Maybe they’ll start eating turkey and stuffing by then, and save the chicken fingers for their own children.  I’ll take my grandchildren out to feed the alpacas that the inn’s owner keeps in a field near the main building.  Thanksgiving will become special again, starting now.

If I am grateful for anything this year, I’m grateful for do-overs.  I’ve made a lot of changes this year, and those changes feel pretty good.

I’m hoping an annual trip to the inn is a change that will last a lifetime.

21 thoughts on “Thanksgiving 2.0: Creating A New Tradition

  1. Jeanne says:

    Jackie,

    An interesting do-over. I remember being in Virginia while I was in the military, and missing the big family gatherings as well. I ended up inviting lots of people over to share the celebration. It was fun. This sounds like a great new tradition for the Lee family. I pray it’s all you hope it to be!

    Jeanne

  2. Erin says:

    This sounds like a great new tradition Jackie. One of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions is watching the Razorbacks vs. LSU game with my family, who are serious Razorback fans. LSU is always the expected winner but it is always a close, exciting game that we’ve managed to win on several occasions. The tradition has evolved to where we make turkey chili, have all our hog gear out, drink too much, and yell and scream like crazy. Last year, we had a member of the group run about the house waving a Razorback banner/flag for each touchdown. This year, the stakes are high with national championship implications on the line. It will make for an exciting and fun day.

  3. David Lee says:

    Thanksgiving can’t come soon enough! I’m uber-excited about our new quest for a tradition. Plus, on Black Friday we’re going to this fantastic bookstore in Manchester, VT, Northshire Books. Food, Vermont, and an awesome bookstore with a good cafe- this is Thanksgiving!

  4. Sandy says:

    Jackie ~ I love Thanksgiving as well… my family the whole 9 of us (mom, brother his wife, their son, sister her husband their two kids and myself) go to my sisters and eat. The guys and momma watch the football games and the girls sit and talk or go watch a movie. It is nice to relax with family with nowhere else to be except with each other. Wishing you all a WONDERFUL Thanksgiving!!!! ~ Sandy

  5. Lyn says:

    Jackie…I love your idea about going to an Inn. After several years of living with my parents I am finally on my own again. I now get to reclaim the holidays for myself. One of the things I decided to do was bow out of the chaos that usually occurs at my brothers house. Instead, I am going to prepare a nice meal for my son, myself, and a few friends that have no plans for the day. This year I am going to relax and enjoy Thanksgiving. I am truly grateful for the do-over, and will remind myself just how different my life would be without the help and support of my family and friends.

  6. "John" says:

    I’m not a big fan of Thanksgiving. I don’t hate it, I’m just not into stuffing my face with all kinds of food and I don’t watch football, so what else is there? As a kid it was different. A day off from school, relatives coming in from out of state, chocolate turkeys, and the Macy’s Parade was a little more exciting as a kid than it is now. Plus it officially kicked off the Christmas Season (you waited and waited for that Sears or Penny’s catalog to come in the mail so you could flip through it and mark off every, EVERY, page that had something you wanted on it). Now, not so much. No relatives anymore, just the immediate family who you see all the time anyway so it’s not really all that “special.” I’m not saying I’m not grateful for my family, I am, but, really, it’s just another family meal. So I’ve created my own Thanksgiving traditions which are quite simple. At some point I listen to Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” (with the four part harmony) and at some point I dig out an old VHS tape and watch the Thanksgiving episode of WKRP. Who needs football? “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”

  7. Lauren says:

    I wish I liked Thanksgiving as much as I used to. Now all I can think about is how it is the start of “The Holidays” and do I have my staff prepared? Do I have enough payroll? Too much payroll? What crazy screaming match is going to happen? I look at Thanksgiving now as the start of the awfulness. I’m glad you’re giving it a re-do. I obviously need to too.

  8. I guess Thanksgiving is a holiday that I never really appreciated. It’s always been busy, going to too many places and having to eat lots of the same (blah) foods. Over the past few years we’ve simplified and have a lunch at our house, which is much better than traveling all day! I think that my favorite Thanksgiving was last year. Even though it was simply with Jon and the kids hanging out at our hotel in Germany, it was the quality time with them. It was just our little family, but it was much more memorable.
    I think that your new tradition is awesome. I hope that it helps you to enjoy the day and remind you of things that you are thankful for. (Like not having to eat tofurky…)

  9. Jon says:

    Thanksgiving or not, hope to see you guys sometime in the near future!

    I guess our “tradition” is pretty much just eating and hanging out. As you said, Thanksgiving always gets trumped by Christmas without any thought. Maybe it should be more important…maybe I’ll form my own tradition in the coming years.

    Looks like you’re well over your 10 comment goal!

  10. Beth P says:

    Jackie, your new tradition sounds amazing and tell David that the bookstore is my favorite place in Manchester.
    My thanksgivings (pre-retail) were literally “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house” except it was several rivers, Pennsylvania turnpike and the vast nothingness of Ohio. Driving in the car with my daughters was also the time i would allow Christmas music to be played for the first time – a tradition they looked forward to until they reached their early teens then it was “oh mom, really? But once we started getting close to my grandparents house in Lexington KY I would get so excited since we only saw them once a year and they were my saving grace for most of my childhood. My grandparents would be waiting at the door when we pulled into their driveway and the love would come pouring through.
    Thanksgiving day itself would be a mad house of 30 relatives, people eating in every room since no one room was big enough, football on and kids running around everywhere. It was like people watching for me because I was the only “damn Yankee” in the group and at times it was like being on a different planet. But other than my homo-phobic cousins, it left me with wonderful memories.
    My grandparents are both gone now and we no longer travel anywhere because, well, you know. My daughters and 2 granddaughters come to my house and it’s always a good day. What I see in the future is the hope that this doesn’t change.

  11. Maya says:

    I think that my feelings about Thanksgiving (and most holidays, actually) have evolved as I grew into the adult celebrating the holiday who got the make choices, as opposed to someone pretty much bound my the giant weight of tradition. Really, who likes those giblets that boil on the stove all day anyway, right? I think picking your place is always a good idea and want to hear how it turns out…

    Otherwise, you can always come hang out with us and look at the pictures my mother-in-law brings of Italy every year…

  12. Wendy Goldstein says:

    Since moving to Alaska, Thanksgiving is different. One year we went “back East,” and one year we had my parents come here. But honestly, our new tradition is a good one. We invite any of our friends over who also don’t have family in town. We cook and talk and share stories, and many times our guests will bring their favorite traditional dishes to share with us, which is wonderful. In a small town like Valdez, Alaska, people stick together. We have been invited to dinner at a local church more than once, but we heathens would feel like hypocrites.
    Something we did last year that we will definitely repeat is: boneless, skinless turkey breast- brine it with cranberry and apple juice, and salt, smoke it with apple wood, then bake it. Heavenly!
    Happy Thanksgiving, Jackie!

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