My Tradition Story: From Thanksgiving Pizza to Two-Day Feast
Every year as we head into the holidays, many of us take comfort in family traditions. When I first got married and had kids, I wondered a lot about which family traditions we would continue and what new ones we would create. How would we mix the traditions from my Indian upbringing with my husband’s Cuban heritage? Which rituals and traditions would become our kids’ favorites?
I’ve always loved family traditions for the way that they knit generations together, and allow us to share our origin stories. I love the chance to teach our kids about our childhoods, our own parents and grandparents, and the series of collisions, coincidences, and fates that brought us (and continue to bring) all together. Even in 2020, when some of those traditions will be shared over video call or with a smaller group.
Recently, I asked a few friends about their own family traditions. My friend Janna shared that every Christmas she takes out ornaments that she brought with her to America from Russia when she was 10 years old. She described the ornaments themselves as “basic and very unremarkable”, but they are a trip back into her childhood. They are a way to share with her children the story of their family and the life they left behind when they came to America.
For me, there is nothing that tells our family story better than Thanksgiving, which probably explains my fervent cult-like love for it. Nowadays, the holiday is a multi-day affair for us, with me and my two sisters (plus our three husbands and all 9 cousins) coming together under one roof for a marathon of eating, talking, laughing, and togetherness.
But it wasn’t always like that, and that is precisely why it means so much to me.
My Thanksgiving story began over 30 years ago, on the first Thanksgiving after my mother died. I was 11 years old and my father had left me and my older sisters home alone for the week while he went to India to complete the mourning rites following our mother’s death. My middle sister was invited to spend Thanksgiving at a friend’s house, so that left just me and my oldest sister at home. Since this was well before the days of grocery delivery, and we were too young to drive ourselves anywhere, our plan for dinner was to do takeout.
Unfortunately it was snowing, which was pretty unusual even for late November in New York. We searched through the phone book for a Chinese restaurant and finally found one that was open. But they wouldn’t deliver in the snow. So we bundled up and walked there. After trudging home and drying off, we brought our full plates into the family room to eat and watch a movie. A few bites in, we looked at each other and cracked up. The food was disgusting. Nearly inedible. Our expedition through the snow had been for naught.
Still, it was Thanksgiving, and we thought we should be able to enjoy dinner like everyone else. So we called Domino’s (a trusted family friend since our mother died 10 months before) which we knew we could count on in sleet and snow for pizza delivery. We rejoiced when it came, along with a 2 liter bottle of Coke.
We ate our pizza, drank soda, and watched movies together under blankets in the family room. Even at that time, even at that age, we both knew it was a pretty pathetic Thanksgiving, but we tried our best to laugh our way through it.
Over the years, as we rebuilt our family, we also rebuilt Thanksgiving. At first, it was just the four of us, with my dad cooking a modest meal. Then we started to invite over extended family and friends to join us and fill out our table. As my sisters got married, we added new faces and babies and kids to our family. Eventually, my sisters and I took over all the cooking, giving our dad the day off except to make his special corn soup that always kicked off the meal. By the time I got married and had kids of my own, our family Thanksgiving had grown into a holiday movie-worthy production, complete with cousins football games, plates full of seconds and thirds, and family and friends who could not resist our infectious love for the holiday.
These days, my sisters and I kick off every Wednesday before Thanksgiving with a trip to get pedicures (a treat for our feet before we kick off two full days of cooking). Then we spend the next two days in the kitchen, chatting and catching up while putting together the epic menu of items that have become standards over the years. We’ve finally started passing off cooking tasks to the kids too. And, we’re well aware that we need to do this if we want our traditions to live on.
We always sit down to dinner - never buffet - even though we now have to set up extra tables to make room for all of us. As we start on our first course, we go around the table - youngest to oldest - and say what we are thankful for. Inevitably the little kids provide some comic relief here. One year my nephew declared he was most thankful for “chicken nuggets.” Once we get to the grown ups though, the answers are more thoughtful and we often reflect on the year that has passed. Usually there are tears. Sometimes because we are happy. Sometimes because we are grateful. Often because we are remembering the people who are missing from our table, including our beloved father who has been gone for ten years now. Though, his famous corn soup still remains the star of the menu.
There are so many lessons that I want my children to take away from our Thanksgiving traditions...
That our Thanksgiving story is one of resilience.
That our family experienced an earth-shattering tragedy and we didn’t just survive, we found a way to thrive.
That our Thanksgiving is a testament to sisterhood, and the enduring power of sibling love.
That above all else, there is such an abundance of love at our table that even if we need to order pizza, and even if we need to Skype in to each other's dinner tables, none of us will ever spend Thanksgiving feeling alone again.
What are your family's stories? And how will you tell them?
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