Thanksgiving Day Traditions

I made my first Thanksgiving Dinner when I was 20. My family usually went out for a nice Thanksgiving Dinner meal. I really don’t remember the kind of places we would go, except that my dad would look for a pile of cars in a parking lot of restaurant about dinner time. A crude and pre-technology kind of YELP! approach; the logic was that if there were a lot of cars the restaurant was both open and probably good. My dad was just as likely to want a good Chinese dinner as the classic turkey and stuffing so the type of dinner varied from year to year. He always wanted to make it a nice “Sunday afternoon drive” kind of wandering up to a couple of hours away.

The reason to go out was simple. After my mom’s car accident (when I was 12) she had a difficult time cooking. Standing up for any amount of time was impossible for her. We didn’t have any family within a 12-hour drive and no habit of visiting for holidays with anyone, family or friends. Taking a road trip at Thanksgiving became our annual tradition.

I realize now why my dad loved to drive. Working in a factory (Pontiac Assembly) confined him to a very strict schedule of clocking in and out and a very limited area of work: the tool and die shop. Each day was a routine drive, a day of work, a half hour lunch in the hourly cafeteria and a return home. With the rare doctor or dentist appointment as an exception my dad arrived home at 3:20. When there was mandatory overtime, my dad arrived home at 5:20. He looked forward to the freedom of driving and the surprise of discovering new places to eat— all without an exact and to the minute schedule. Thanksgiving Day was a day of getting a project done in the house while watching the parades on the TV and then a drive to some unknown restaurant for a meal that could be really quite exceptional— or not.

So one year I decided to make Thanksgiving Dinner to be eaten at home in the living room like a Norman Rockwell painting. I got a list from my mom and went out and bought all the stuff. She sat in a chair and told me what to do with each item. Giblet stuffing was augmented with sage sausage and sweet potatoes had to have marshmallows on them. Green beans and carrots were cooked (like all of her vegetables) until they were nearly without color. The potatoes were mostly butter and cream. The turkey came out of the roaster when the little button popped and not before. What I remember most was I completely messed up the gravy by not separating the grease out of the stock. For a few precious minutes it looked perfect and then it dissolved into a gray goo. She helped me try to fix it but in the end we ate a fine thanksgiving dinner with plenty of butter and salt and pepper and a hastily made sausage and flour white gravy. It was fine and a good memory.

I have not insisted on my family’s Thanksgiving Day tradition for obvious reasons. Now I realize that this was a bit “unique.” I will admit to still a bit of wanderlust and desire to drive somewhere at Thanksgiving. For the sake of my kids, I think it it is better for them to have the Norman Rockwell painting version surrounded by family and feeling very loved.

That being said, some folks spend their Thanksgiving Day working in places like the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission feeding people whose Thanksgiving Day traditions have become quite different and are not unique, but sad or lonely. It is consistent with a day of thanksgiving to be thankful for what we have and, in that thankfulness, to help others with what they don’t have. Providing donations of food, clothing, and money to those in need is a very Jesus thing to be involved in and I encourage all of us to be helpful according to our capabilities and opportunities. Making Thanksgiving Day more than a day of self-interest is a good lesson for us and our children.

This year the Lions play the Bears on Thanksgiving Day at 12:30. Having rooted for them since my earliest memories, I will continue to do so. I cannot theologically support that God cares who wins, so that prayer will not be a part of our Thanksgiving Eve service. But I do.

Please enjoy your family traditions for Thanksgiving Day. Please allow a spirit of thankfulness to be a blessing to others. Particularly for those whose Thanksgiving Day dinner will be quite different.

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