Thursday, November 26, 2009

Creating Thanksgiving Tradition

I have fond memories of Thanksgivings from my childhood, piling into the car and driving to my Grandma's house, which would be filled with the same familiar smells each year. My Grandma was (still is) a simple woman who survived on potato chips and processed meats, but on Thanksgiving, she made a fantastic, home-cooked meal. My uncle, aunts and cousins would be there, the parade would be on T.V., the adults started imbibing early and were giddy all day. After dinner, they played poker while the kids swiped as much dessert as we could manage. My strongest impression from those Thanksgivings is a house filled with laughter.

Now, I live far from family, and they all live far from each other. My cousins are distributed as far as Japan, and my Grandma has descended into deep dementia. For many years, Thanksgiving was almost a non-holiday for me, just a day that the stores were closed. While in relationships, I joined with my boyfriends' family, which was always pleasant. When I was single, there were sometimes potlucks with friends. I tried to create a tradition of forcing people to watch "Trail of Tears" or other documentaries about the history of Native American subjugation. "Life-of-the-Party", I think they called me.

When Anouk was born, I felt more nostalgia for those childhood memories, and it has been important to me to create a tradition based on family and extended family, along with an emphasis on food (growing our own, understanding agricultural politics, appreciating how we are connected to the earth through our food.) Unfortunately, our friends usually have plans with their own extended families, so it is just us three, and my dad usually makes an appearance.

Added to the challenge is the fact that I have always been an abysmal cook. I don't enjoy cooking, and have resented the fact that this part of Thanksgiving was considered my responsibility. I served very mediocre vegetarian Thanksgiving dinners for many years, so my dad got in the habit of stopping by, making his appearance, then heading to join with friends eating more savory and meat-centered meals, probably with much more festivity. Then Mike, Anouk and I would head to the movies.

The past two years have improved. Our more successful efforts at growing our own food, along with raising our own turkeys, has helped to define our family's tradition. This meal involves food that we have been intensely involved with from cultivation through harvest and preservation. I believe our appreciation for the food is heightened by that relationship, especially when it comes to the turkey. When you nurture a living creature and kill it yourself, the weight of that life feels significant, maybe profound.

Mike cooked last year's meal, and he did a far better job of it than I ever have. So, he is doing it again today. He has brined the turkey overnight and is preparing it for the oven right now. I harvested some carrots, took string beans out of the freezer, and cooked a LOT of pumpkin this past week. He's mashing our own potatoes, but he also bought a bag of groceries to add to the meal; sweet potatoes, parsnips, celery, onions and some spices. This morning I got up and made desserts (all pumpkin) and now I'm off to work in the studio. I plan to make some time to play games with Anouk later.

I still feel like this is a dull holiday for Anouk. She is aware that we are having a special meal and honoring our food today, but she has to make her own fun. We pulled out the boxes of Christmas decorations, books and videos, and she has been watching Frosty the Snowman, coloring in her Xmas activity books, pulling out our stockings. Today marks the beginning of the Holidays, a month or more of decorating, buying gifts, vacation and celebration that helps us get through the dreary wintertime.

It would be great if we could join with another family to bring more festivity to our tradition, but this is where we are right now. Far from family, but happily enjoying each other, our land, and our harvest.

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