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Breaking Thanksgiving Traditions

Thanksgiving is about traditions and I cherish traditions. Even before I was born, Mom, her two sisters, and their parents celebrated together on Thanksgiving Day at noon.  The number of place settings at the table has changed over the past 75 years (yes, 75!). Card tables were set up for us children and grandchildren, and then the passing of grandparents and parents meant we children moved to the dining room table.  Thankfully, in-laws graciously gave us this day, and we’ve welcomed parents-in-law, in-law siblings, boyfriends, and girlfriends.

            Now, we who were born into this tradition are grandparents, and although none of us carry our maternal grandparents’ last name, we gather for the Bertram Family Thanksgiving.  But not this year.  On Thanksgiving Day, we might be with a son’s or daughter’s family. Maybe with a few people that we’ve claimed into our COVID-safe bubble. Maybe alone. 

            I wince when I hear someone say that rules are made to be broken, meaning it’s acceptable, or even good, to break a rule. Rules keep us safe and provide peace and order.  But, we all know instances when rules were broken for good at that moment.

            I take that stance with traditions.  Traditions are made to be broken. It’s the safest and best for my family to not be together this Thanksgiving.  I’ll miss my cousins and their families.  The hugs.  The laughing over the re-telling of stories about our parents and grandparents.  The first time to see a cousin’s six-month-old granddaughter.  The dividing of leftovers. The kitchen clean-up with my sister-in-law and cousins because the best conversations are over the kitchen sink, not at the dinner table. 

            Several weeks ago, I came to terms with our decision and pondered how to make this Thanksgiving a celebration with only Husband and Daughter’s family.  It’s the food.  As Daughter said, “The best meal of the year!” We pared the menu to turkey, cornbread dressing, a few sides, bread, and pies.

            And I thought of two things to make our Thanksgiving unique: turkey bread and a tablecloth.  I hope our Grands and their parents look back on Thanksgiving 2020 and remember that’s when I baked bread that looked kinda’ like a turkey, and we drew and wrote on the table cloth. 

            Neither idea is original. The bread is baked in a round cake pan with one big round roll in the middle (the turkey body) surrounded by smaller rolls (feathers), and a bread dough turkey neck and head draped over the body.  A whole clove marks the turkey’s eye and yellow and brown and orange sprinkles decorate the feathers.  We’ll draw and write on the heavy flannel-backed white table cloth that’s been around for years.

            Sometimes breaking traditions is good.  We Bertram cousins will be together next Thanksgiving and I have a feeling we’ll have a couple of new traditions.  Thanksgiving dinner won’t be complete without turkey bread and the tablecloth from 2020.

            May everyone stay well and enjoy a Happy Thanksgiving.

It Wouldn’t be Christmas Without….

screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-8-09-58-amWhat are the ‘musts’ for Christmas at your house? I threw that question out to Facebook friends and they commented. Christmas is about family, friends, church services, gifts, games, movies, carols, food, and the nativity.

Traditional food ranks high on everyone’s list. Anne said, “We have the exact same food every year. You can add, but you CANNOT take away. We tried doing something different about thirty years ago and it was a disaster. The kids love their tradition.” So do adults. Vegetable soup, shrimp, spinach balls, fruitcake, dried apple stack cake, coconut cake, gingerbread houses. And while most of my friends enjoy southern foods, two honor their family heritage by eating eat lutefisk and lebkuchen.

Christmas isn’t complete without watching movies. We laugh when we know that Raphie’s father in A Christmas Story won a prize. Laugh before we even see the lamp, shaped like a leg and wearing a fishnet stocking. We celebrate that miracles still happen on 34th street and that George Baily learns that his life really is wonderful and we listen for the angel’s bell.

Two friends shared stories about boxes. Mike wrote that in 1989 he bought an aquarium for his daughters and the filter box was the perfect size for a small Christmas gift. Every year since someone gets the ‘fish box.’ It has continued to be passed around from person to person.

Jo’s story goes back to 1965 when her future mother-in-law wrapped a gift in a Texas Instrument box. After Jo married into the family, she learned about the box and always thought it was fun to see whom Grandma chose to get it. The family grew, and Jo never got the box. It went around the family over and over, and Grandma recorded the year and the box’s recipient on a paper she kept inside the box.

Jo writes, “I have to admit, I knew she loved me, but she never gave me the box and I couldn’t understand why. It was just a box, but not to this family, and you knew you were in if you got The Box. I gave up, but not without heckling Grandma, when she gave the box to my new son-in-law. Then, lo and behold, the last Christmas she was with us, before she died in the spring, I got the box.”

Jo’s family took pictures while she squealed and hugged and carried on like it was a golden box of treasure. The gift inside was a pair of old pillowcases from the 1970s, but never used. Jo says, “The perfect gift for the old box that carried so much clout, and now, I am in charge! I get to pick whose gift goes inside the box.”

I love the stories that friends shared. Myra said it best. “While we may have different rituals and traditions, we find such comfort in the power of consistency. It connects us with those no longer with us.”

That’s exactly why I make dried apple stack cake. Mom did.