Tradition (noun): an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (such as a religious practice or a social custom).
But, really Merriam-Webster, isn’t a tradition so much more?
“Mom, when are we making the Grasshopper Pies this year?” my daughter excitedly asked me, just as she has each and every November for as long as I can remember. This is our thing. With a little help from our Nan (my mom), me and my three children make five Grasshopper Pies pies for Thanksgiving Day. The kids each choose one lucky teacher who will receive a homemade pie, one goes to my ex-husband’s/in-law’s house, and one comes to my parent's feast each year.
Because people often fight over the last slice of Grasshopper Pie, the kids always beg to make two per family, but that would bring our grand total of pies to a whopping seven and I just have to say no. Plus, arguing over the last slice is part of the tradition.
Each pie takes time, money and care: We hand smash Oreos, whip heavy cream, and carefully measure Crème de Menthe. The kids love every minute of it. I’m not sure how or when this tradition started, but I do know that it didn’t start as a tradition. We didn’t exclaim let’s make pies for our teachers every year! Rather, it became a tradition out of love (my kids love for baking), gratitude (the teachers overwhelming gratitude for the delicious pie), and the memories that accompany all that good stuff. We did it one year and it just kind of stuck, and now it is understood — we will NEVER skip the Grasshopper Pies.
And so I started asking people, What is your favorite Thanksgiving tradition? I asked everyone I could in a few short weeks and received so many great answers. Despite a wide range of responses, one thing was common across all: People love traditions. They loved sharing them and they were happy I asked. It didn’t matter if it was a simple or predictable tradition, they wanted to talk about it.
Here are some of my favorites:
Give Thanks (Literally)
It is a quite common practice to share what you are grateful for before carving into the turkey, but Lauren Tingley and her family take it a step further. “Each year we brainstorm a list of people who have impacted our lives: a childhood teacher, the kind clerk at the grocery store, the medical assistant at the doctor’s office, who always distracts our child when it's time for shots. Then we make cards or reach out on social media to let them know that we are thankful for their kindness and generosity. By sharing our gratitude we hope to create a community full of kindness and encourage those who go above and beyond to help others.” Such a simple and beautiful idea to put gratitude into action.
Do a Dance
Holidays and music go together like peanut butter and jelly, so why not add a little dancing to your day? Michele Turner shares her all-time favorite Thanksgiving tradition: “Ever since my daughter was old enough to walk, she has helped with prepping the turkey by doing a turkey dance. We put a tablespoon of flour in the turkey bag, and she dances around, shaking it. (I, of course, snap a bunch of photos of it). Afterward, we put the turkey in the bag and everything in the oven. Then we do our version of the turkey trot by walking down to the gas station and getting donuts and the paper for the Black Friday Ads. It's a memory I will cherish forever!”
For some families, the announcement of Christmas carols and naughty and nice lists is built into Thanksgiving. Chloe Skupnick and her family love to get into the Christmas spirit right away: “We have a big family who lives all around the country, but we always get together for Thanksgiving instead of other holidays. After the meal is eaten and we all come out of our food coma, we make homemade hot chocolate and watch Elf. It’s a sort of kickoff to the holidays and something we’ve done forever. So simple yet a must-do every Thanksgiving.”
My family does something similar. Every Thanksgiving we watch 29th Street (based on a true story of the first-ever New York lottery which took place on Christmas Eve) in preparation for December 25. Why not end your Turkey Day with a movie to get you in the mood?
Alicia Butler is perhaps the nicest daughter ever: “My mom always makes this chestnut stuffing for Thanksgiving. The hysterical thing is, I hated it growing up, but how could I admit that I didn't like Mom's famous chestnut stuffing? These days, my mom doesn't make it anymore because my nephew is allergic to chestnuts. But every once in a while, she makes a special batch to send me home with me.” In other words, still believing Alicia likes it, her mom goes out of her way to make it. Alicia just eats around the parts she doesn’t like, even though her mother isn't even there. “It makes me happy to make her happy.”
Roll with the Punches
Sometimes, the best traditions are born from the biggest holiday bloopers. Jorj Morgan recalls her Grandma’s most memorable faux-pas, “This one time [my] sweet Gram, getting on in age and perhaps partaking of a tad too much sherry, forgot to turn on the oven. Imagine everyone showing up to spy the not only un-basted, but decidedly uncooked turkey in there! That Thanksgiving, we had ham sandwiches for dinner.... and a fit of laughter in the process.” Ham has now become a staple of the Morgan family Thanksgiving dinner.
That is the thing with traditions, they are so much more than the definition suggests. They are love, laughter, care and gratitude. They bond us to the ones we love. They don’t let us down. Kids and adults alike find comfort and joy in the act of tradition, and something about doing things just once a year sparks a greater appreciation for all that comes with it. It is as if families everywhere are acutely aware of just how precious time is and how dear the memories they are making will be.
Don’t be afraid to try something new this year with your family: make a wish on the turkey’s wishbone, go outside and throw that football around, or run a turkey trot in a festive costume. Whatever you do, be sure to inhale gratitude and exhale everything else. ‘Tis the season.