On Nov. 24, many of us will gather around a table laden with food, join hands and give thanks for our blessings. Amidst parades, football games and shopping, most folks will manage to make some time for family and friends on this very American holiday.
The Thanksgiving holiday, in the U.S., is traced to a 1621 celebration at Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts, where settlers celebrated a successful harvest with a feast, although it didn’t become a fixed national holiday until 1941, when Congress passed a law stating that from there on out, Thanksgiving would be held on the fourth Thursday of Thanksgiving.
Traditions abound — which serving pieces and silverware must be used, how many pumpkin pies will be needed, what side dishes — macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole, candied yams, mashed potatoes — will be included and whether the dinner is dressy or casual, is very much up to the discretion of each family. But still, most families will have more than one tradition in common.
What sets the holiday apart for so many people is the individualization so many families bring to their respective tables. At Leigh Gunnels Langford’s house, it’s the memory page.
“I have printed out a page every year since Maddie (her youngest) was three,” she said. “We pass it around and everyone writes down what they are thankful for and I put it in a book.”
Langford says it’s fun to review what people have written through the years.
“We have had many additions through the years,” she explained. “Many people have joined the family, as well as other guests joining us who couldn’t make it home to their families. It’s always nice to see what they write.”
One particular memory is the year Langford’s mother had knee replacement surgery and was thankful for her new knee. Another advantage of documenting the holiday in this manner is the ability it gives family members to track the youngsters’ handwriting progress. Langford says when children are too young to write, they’re given a page upon which to scribble, which, she said, they can go back and laugh at later.
“It’s still something to document ‘them’ as well as their handwriting along the way,” she said. “It’s pretty special. Maddie’s first one at 3 was she was thankful for ‘turkey, apples, mommy and me.’ She only did the ‘e’s’ but Caitlin (her eldest) helped her write the rest and I’m so glad I have it.”
Of course, if your first Thanksgiving as a newlywed begins with a disaster, your tradition could become not making Thanksgiving dinner ever again.
That’s Joy Eliot’s story.
“I was a young bride of 29, and only married for about a year,” she began. “My husband at that time wanted me to fix a ‘real’ Thanksgiving dinner.”
Eliot says she wasn’t much of a cook at the time, and had never cooked a turkey. That didn’t hold her back, however. The bird was purchased, basted, wrapped in foil and placed in the oven.
“After a few hours, we started to smell this strange smell,” she said. “We opened the oven, and the turnkey was smoking between where the legs were tied together. We took it out of the oven and cut the string around the legs.
“We opened it up and discovered there was what was left of a brown paper bag inside the turkey with all the (giblets) in it.”
The bag had actually caught on fire inside of the turkey. It was removed from oven, and enough meat was salvaged for one dinner.
“All these years later, I have never attempted to make another real Thanksgiving dinner,” she said.
Being separated from family and friends during the holidays can be a tough row to hoe, but sometimes a kind gesture is all it takes to make the day a whole lot brighter.
That was certainly the case for Jeff Waters, who, while in college, spent a fall semester in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“I was living there during the American Thanksgiving, and it was my first time being away from home on a major holiday,” he explained, adding that the day was like any other day, filled with classes and afternoon coffee with a neighbor. “Strangely, she and I were both attending UGA, but had not known each other.
“It had turned late, and we decided to go up to my apartment to order some takeout and have our own Thanksgiving. We walked in and saw what had to be at least 50 people in my landlord’s apartment. At first, I thought something bad had happened. And then everyone looked up and said, ‘Happy Thanksgiving!’”
Waters explained that it was no easy feat for his landlord, Adriana, to find a turkey in the very cosmopolitan South American city. She topped it off by inviting all of her friends to help us celebrate.
“She knew it was a holiday for us, and that we were so far away from home,” he said. “To this day, it was one of the kindest acts I have ever received.”