Adapting to Our Changing Thanksgiving Traditions


One of my wise grandma friends told me we need to get over yearning for the traditions of Thanksgivings past and just accept what is. She’s absolutely right. Our Thanksgiving traditions are changing and we need to adapt. Families move, relationships change, beliefs change, our loved ones pass on and we have to learn to be flexible. When we let go of needing to do things a certain way, we can better appreciate the new opportunities we do have.

Thanksgivings Past

I treasure the memories of my Thanksgivings past when my Grandma Amelia hosted dinner in her apartment. There were 8 of us around her dining room table — my parents and two brothers and I, my two grandmothers and my bachelor cousin. Dessert was the highlight of the meal. My grandma always ordered fancy individual ice cream molds and the moment the dinner plates were cleared, my brothers and I yelled “Dibs on picking the first ice cream!” We got to choose from four different shapes: standing turkeys made of chocolate ice cream, orange sherbet pumpkins, vanilla cornucopias and lemon sorbet corn on the cob.

After dessert came an even better treat — my cousin Bob drove my brothers and me to Playland at the Beach, San Francisco’s (now defunct) amazing amusement park, gave us each a roll of pennies and let us pitch pennies in the arcade.

I’ve adapted our Thanksgiving traditions over the 30 years I’ve been hosting our 4-generation Thanksgiving dinners. I hosted my first one in 1970, just a few months after our daughter was born. My parents and two grandmas flew down to southern California to help me prepare  all the traditional foods.

Thanksgiving became my holiday and I have the recipe folder to show for it. In those days I had the energy to make everything from scratch and even made small loaves of braided challah for each guest. My grandmas used to go home and brag to their friends about those beautiful loaves.

In 2003, my mother became the eldest in the family and our new grandchild became the youngest. I dropped the tradition of making loaves of challah and added a new tradition. I cut out colored leaves from construction paper and gave everyone a leaf to write down one thing they were thankful for. After dinner, we took turns picking a leaf from the basket, reading it aloud and trying to guess who wrote it. I still have all those leaves and enjoy re-reading them when I search through the folder for recipes.

Thanksgivings Present

Two years ago we scaled back again when my daughter and her family became vegan. They have their vegan Thanksgiving with Tofurkey and we have a traditional dinner with my 91-year old mom at her senior residence. I’d love to cook all my favorite homemade dishes again, but now the food is secondary. It’s more important to be with my mother and appreciate that I still have her in my life.

There’s no denying that I miss the days when our whole family sat around the table enjoying our Thanksgivings traditions. But traditions embrace constancy and change. We’re better off simply cherishing those old memories from Thanksgivings past rather than being filled with disappointment for what we no longer have. Otherwise, we may end up like my friend who jokes: “When I die and they pop me, all the disappointments I’ve been keeping inside of me are going to explode all over them!”