Singing or thinking about “Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go,” creates nostalgic feelings and good will regardless of some or no river or woods on the way to Grandma. Interesting to consider if decades from now our grandchildren will fondly remember bumper-to-bumper traffic on crowded interstates when traveling to their grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving weekend. That fourth week in November is one of the most heavily traveled times with traffic and congested highways and skies not exactly conducive to warm fuzzy feelings. But it’s our reality so we plan and respond accordingly.
Today’s world is full of choices and options which necessitate decisions even for something as traditional as Thanksgiving dinner. Fresh turkey or frozen? Cook for hours or order the feast from the local deli? Skip Aunt Bethany’s traditional and flavorful homemade dressing, or spend precious time chopping all the ingredients? Cranberry sauce is considered outdated by many while Buffalo chicken dip receives raves. Eggnog makes its annual holiday debut and older guests fondly recall when it was homemade with no concern about the healthiness of eggs and cream.
Traditional “good dishes and silver” were brought out with frequent reminders to youngsters about being careful not to break anything. Paper and plastic were not appropriate table settings. Tablecloths and cloth napkins were freshly washed and ironed with hopes that inevitable spills didn’t stain.
Shopping after Thanksgiving dinner was unheard of and impossible as stores weren’t open on Thursday. It would have been considered by many to be sacrilegious and disrespectful. The day was devoted to newspaper ads detailing Friday’s bargains; parades; football games, and maybe a Charlie Brown TV special. Guests visited, played games, laughed, reminisced, and often dozed briefly after dinner. Turkey sandwiches and round two of the desserts were served later in the evening.
Today’s society is often criticized for losing sight of what’s genuinely important in life. It’s easy to get caught up in the commercialism, wanting what neighbors have that we don’t, and failing to appreciate what is ours. Those aren’t distractions only in 2016, but they are more pronounced because we’re bombarded with advertisements and social media. We can see, talk to, hear, and “visit” with a mere touch on a keyboard. As with most situations, there are advantages and disadvantages to all that entails.
Thanksgiving, like any holiday, isn’t bound by certain decorum. Traditions are wonderful, but only if they remain useful and meaningful. Our Thanksgiving Day celebration in 1998 occurred some six weeks after my Mother died. My two daughters, young adults living independently at the time, cooked dinner at my younger daughter’s apartment. We enjoyed traditional foods and new tastes even while missing two very important people. My husband, an airline employee working in St. Louis, didn’t have the day off. My mother’s absence was poignantly felt, but my daughters wisely chose creative “new to us” ways of observing the day. We were in a different setting, celebrating with friends, gratitude, loving remembrances, laughter, tears, and reminders that life continues and can be enjoyed even with the absence of loved ones.
Relationships trump traditions, loving memories help ease sadness, and a generous heart and willingness to improvise create the atmosphere where gratitude can reign on Thanksgiving and every day.