Looking outside recently, the fact that autumn is here has hit me like a ton of bricks. Even if all the stores are already putting out Christmas merchandise, I’m just now gearing up for Thanksgiving! This of course got me to thinking about what my family would do this year, and the traditions that make up my holiday, as odd as they are.
Supposedly, according to one of folklore’s big wigs, Roger Abrahams, the importance of Thanksgiving is the turkey meal and the accoutrements. In this case, it’s quantity that matters. Now, I can remember families talking about their turkey dinners, and goodness knows I’ve seen countless movies where the meal is sacrosanct. By all that makes that family, there will be a turkey on that table Thanksgiving day, and they will sit down as a family, even if Aunt Marge has to drag Uncle Bill away from the game so that the family can have one meal together. I’m pretty certain that everyone has a story like this, or at least can relate to it.
But what about those of us with non-traditional traditions? Does it mean that our Thanksgivings are somehow less because we don’t have a turkey, big family gathering, or even celebrate on Thanksgiving? As a folklorist and a non-traditional celebrant, I’d have to answer with a resounding NO! It wasn’t until I was an adult that we even routinely celebrated Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving Day, as my army father was often deployed during this time when I was a child. Those occasions when he was home for the holiday, we often ate at the Army post’s mess hall (believe it or not, they have a particularly good spread at Thanksgiving). I have to say, I enjoyed those occasions far more than the one time I was forced into going to my grandparent’s house and eating brussels sprouts. I recently read an article on Slate about someone else who had unique Thanksgiving traditions, mainly eating dinner at her parents’ second home, the local country club. The holiday is based on the theme of thankfulness for a bountiful autumn harvest and not just pilgrims, so I really don’t think the turkey is that important beyond a symbol.
What makes our traditions important is that we can’t imagine our world without them, be it always having jellied cranberries on Thanksgiving, or eating with other soldiers and their families at a mess hall. So, what are some Thanksgiving traditions that you can’t live without?
Enjoy your turkey, tofurkey or curry next Thursday,
Image from the Kentucky Historical Society: http://22.214.171.124:2005/u?/ORP,2774, Thanksgiving dinner at Bernard Phillip's home, 1978