Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thanksgiving for the Non-Traditional Family

"What three favorite family traditions have you passed or will pass on to your children?" It's an intriguing question that came my way via email,, this morning. Which got me thinking.

It's pretty easy to forget that Thanksgiving is only two weeks away; the malls have conveniently skipped this Fall tradition, instead festooning every lamppost and chandelier with mistletoe and ivy sometime around October 15. A quick trip into Borders the night before last found me serenaded by Bing Crosby as I searched for my daughter's latest installment of her favorite Anime series. And when I open up my hotmail account, Land's End has already launched it's "St. Nick Specials". So to say that "Thanksgiving" isn't up there on my radar is an understatement.

Until I smelled gingerbread. You read that right. Gingerbread.

I grew up in a very non-traditional home. An only child living with a broken family 2,500 miles from any relatives, we didn't have big, festive Thanksgivings. We had the three of us. My mother was not going to baste a bird for three people. Occasionally we would drive up to see my stepsister, who at the time lived a very bohemian lifestyle; we once celebrated Easter at her commune.

So when I had a family of my own, I changed things up a bit. Frankly, there was nowhere to go but up. And so I have created new family traditions, that might seem a bit odd to other families, but for me, they're as "traditional" as I can get.

First, it all begins with the Macy's Day Parade. I have watched this parade since I was four. Now, I have my children to huddle on the sofa with, waiting for each float, balloon and band. When I was younger, I was all about the floats. As I have gotten older, I am all about the bands. And the Rockettes. But the best is always the arrival of Santa—to a point that there is screeching from all corners of the house (especially if I happen to be basting the bird), "SANTA AFTER THE BREAK!!!" I've found, from my own experience, that the more old-fashioned Santa appears, the worse the economy. This year, if he comes out looking super skinny, with long flowing robes, you know we're doomed!

After the parade, it's time for my second tradition: the making of the gingerbread houses. Yeah, I KNOW, go figure. But that's what I do. Now, when the kids were little, I made ONE house and then let the kids decorate (read: slap on whatever candies they hadn't already consumed) onto the house. This vision of artistic and culinary expertise then becomes my holiday centerpiece up through New Year's. However, as the kids have gotten older, they're not as fond of a collaborative effort, and prefer to express their individual talents with their own houses. Which means I am making three (four if I'm feeling the need to decorate one). Three gingerbread houses, complete with three batches of Royal icing, takes a LOT of time. And it's a good thing I have a very long dining room table, because I now have to put a runner down the center and stagger the houses between the candlesticks. Fills up the table, but it's fun and festive. And I love asking guests to guess who's is whose. The kids LOVE that.

My final tradition is at Thanksgiving dinner itself. By that time I'm ready for a bubble bath and a nap, but that's probably par for the course for all of us. We take turns going around the table and telling everyone what we are most thankful for. In the past, the kids have usually said some toy or game or their cat. But economic conditions have changed; they've watched their father get laid off and watch his daily efforts to find a new position. They've seen their friends move away as those parents seek employment in other parts of the country. They are more aware of what we do for them, and express their appreciation. They are thankful for the time they have with us.

I've had to create my own Thanksgiving traditions, but I'm pretty confident that they'll be passed along through my children. There will be gingerbread houses and Macy's Day Parades and, most of all, there will be going around the table and remembering why we are all together as a family.

But enough reminiscing; I've got to make my list and head to Target to get stocked up for the Gingerbread House Extravaganza. Thank goodness Target has the prices to keep this tradition alive!!

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