Indeed, it’s that time of year again when our family thoughts have turned to Thanksgiving and all the traditions that we have accumulated over the years passed down from one generation to another. Although my sister and I were constantly reminded that every day is a day of gratefulness, we were also taught this particular wonderful holiday brings all family members from near and far together under the same roof to give voice to God’s mercy and grace for what we have received.
Most importantly, for me, Thanksgiving symbolizes a time of sharing, fellowship, and communion where we break bread in the same manner as Christ had done with his disciples. We show our love and appreciation for family and extended family because our family bond is the anchor to which we hold on to during times of great stress and troubles. Perhaps, this is why so many people head home for this specific holiday above all others because it is a time to find comfort and joy in the family ties that bind our hearts together as one.
Traditions give us a sense of belonging to something sacred and special and for this reason; I am always excited about what happens in my family home on Thanksgiving. However, I also know how much work is involved to making sure that our gathering is as my Mother puts it, “A good time was had by all. ” For many years, my Aunt Ginnie (my Grandfather’s sister) was the one who always hosted Thanksgiving dinner at her home until her health gradually began to fail. Eventually, her daughter, my Aunt Lottie took over the responsibility.
Once my Grandfather moved here from Virginia, he felt that my parent’s home was more suitable for such a large gathering of family members. As a result, my parents assumed this honor most certainly to please my Grandfather who now served as the eldest male in our family and of course, no one ever denied his requests when it came to family matters. Although he died 6 years ago, they continue to respect his wishes. So, for my parents, planning for this Thanksgiving festivity starts in mid-October with my parents assigning family members a specific dish to bring for dinner.
The menu for our feast consists of macaroni and cheese, cornbread stuffing, collard greens, candied yams, cabbage, string beans, roast beef, potato salad, fresh brewed ice tea, punch, and above all else, my favorites, homemade rolls and desserts. All those who are doing the cooking begin their prep work by shopping early for what they need to avoid being stressed out. For example, my Aunt Lottie picks up her collard greens 2 weeks in advance so that she can have them cleaned and cooked. After she completes these steps, she immediately bags and freezes them so the day before our dinner all she has to do is warm them up.
I am so fortunate that the women in my family love to cook because I love to eat! My parents always start the ball rolling by getting a 25 lb. turkey but, it’s prepared and cooked by one of the older women in our family because my Mother says she’ll gain some experience with all that in due time. Decorating the house is my Mother’s favorite thing to do for this holiday. From the front door to every level of our home, there are many decorations that remind me of fall and all the beautiful colors that come this time of year.
She likes to use her nicest linen tablecloth, floral arrangements, and candles to make the dining room table her master piece. She especially enjoys making souvenir place settings that each senior family member can take home with them. For example, last year she tied tags labeled with Thanksgiving themes to pumpkin cookie cutters. One tag might have love written on it, yet another would say gratitude. In essence, the dining room is formally set and beautifully decorated. Moreover, as a rule, only the senior members of my family can sit at the table because it is our family tradition to pay tribute to our elders.
We generally have 20-30 people. As a matter of fact, one thing I can always count on is my parents inviting people who they know will be alone. Consequently, this can turn into an interesting gathering because every year there are different faces at the table. My Dad always carves the turkey after the blessing, however, he is teaching younger male family members to do it so this family tradition will eventually be passed on to them. Before we are allowed to eat, someone is chosen to bless our food and family. Afterward, I, along with other younger family members, serve our elders.
Finally, after they have been served, than the remaining family members may serve themselves. We use the buffet style of serving so everyone can choose what they would like to eat. People are everywhere, eating, talking, laughing, sharing old memories, and remembering what we have to be thankful for. Meanwhile, my cousins and I update each other on what we’ve been doing and making plans to get together. As always, after everyone is overstuffed, the men are ready to stretch out and watch football. No doubt, the women are left to clean up and fix plates to go.
My Mother is always prepared for this by stocking up on Styrofoam food containers in contrast to Ginnie who would hand us a paper plate and some aluminum foil. What a mess that was by the time we got home! If there’s a whole left over ham or roast beef that hadn’t been served, it would certainly go to my Aunt Renee who always hosts our Christmas dinner. Aunt Renee starts signing everyone up for what they will bring for her dinner because she says everyone goes brain dead with holiday shopping and she doesn’t feel like calling people to get commitments.
We who are non-cooks have to commit to bring something as well. This makes us also responsible for contributing to the success of our dinner. To conclude our festivities, we all take a slip of paper and write down what we are grateful for. Afterwards, each one of us reads what we have written. I call this our “Amen” time. All the elders speak of how grateful they are to have this time with family because our family grows smaller with the passing of our loved ones. I call this our time of remembrance.
In particular, I think about how my Grandfather, “Pop-Pop”, brought this wonderful gathering of people into my home. I can still see him sitting at the head of the table where my Uncle Jerry sits now. Gradually, we all begin to leave for our homes with large containers of food while giving each other words of love and travelling mercies. Since I’ve become an adult, I am most grateful for the gift of family and traditions because I know that I am a part of something greater than myself.