Thursday, November 11, 2010

My Favorite Holiday

With or without the Williams-Sonoma table, I really love Thanksgiving.  

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays.  By the time I came along, my parents were set in the tradition of having the dinner at their house, so up until my 21st year, all my Thanksgiving memories took place in my own home.  My grandparents usually came--both sets--and for years and years we always had guests who were visiting the United States from other countries.

I'm not exactly sure how these invitations were issued, but my dad had quite a few contacts within our small college town.  My parents were eager to share a quintessentially American tradition with our visitors, and I believe equally eager for their children to discover first hand how big the world really was.  I don't remember everyone, but I recall meeting people from Taiwan, China, Iran, and Brazil at our Thanksgiving table.  The family we hosted from Brazil became good friends, and we shared celebrations with them for the next several years, until their father finished his doctorate and they returned to Brazil.  My siblings often brought along college roommates, and I remember enjoying so much learning about all of these people and where they came from and how they celebrated holidays in their own homes.

Since the Bionic Man and I were married 13 years ago, we've never had a chance to go home for Thanksgiving.  For some reason, we were stubbornly determined to spend our first Thanksgiving alone (newlyweds, you know), so I single-handedly prepared our feast.  I was quite proud (and pregnant).
The next year, we were living in Germany with our new baby, and that Thanksgiving was a spectacular failure.  We tried to celebrate with American friends who lived in another town.  I was supposed to bring the pies.  Guess what?  There are no pie tins in Germany.  It doesn't matter how good your homemade pastry dough is, you cannot make a pie in a rectangular pyrex baking dish.  Don't even try.  We sat in a four-hour traffic jam on the autobahn, arrived at dinner long after it was over, and brought along the most un-pielike pies in the history of pastry desserts.

After that, there was nowhere to go but up.  Luckily, we really went up the next year, when we scored an invitation from our friends (and, at that time, landlords) the Binghams.  Thanksgiving at the Binghams was truly a feast.  My mouth waters to this day as I think about it.  The turkey, the twice-baked potatoes, the seven-layer salad, Bonnie's orange rolls, and THE PIES.  Oh, the pies.  It was so good that by the time dinner was over, I looked like this:
Just kidding!  That was Justone in there, making it hard for Endeavor to fit on my lap.  And, judging by the date on that photo, that was after the Bingham's New Year's Eve dinner, which was also incomparable.  Let's face it, there is a reason Justone was my biggest baby: I partook of a good share of Bingham dinners during that preganancy.

Anywho, after that introduction to Bingham family celebrations, they couldn't have got rid of us if they had tried.  We spent the next six Thanksgivings with Uncle Morris and Aunt Bonnie....until we moved to Indiana.  It became an important tradition, one that our children looked forward to every year.  

My children were devastated when they realized that we wouldn't be able to go to the Binghams' for Thanksgiving, that first year in Indiana.  Tears were shed.  Promises were made, that their mommy would try to make all the right foods.  That year, we invited three other young families who were far from home to join us.  One of those families, the Cleverlys, have become part of our Indiana Thanksgiving tradition.  We've celebrated with them ever since, along with an assortment of other friends and any family members (like my sister, Lisa), who can make it.

Nicole Cleverly and I have tweaked our menu over the last few years, but as our sixth joint Thanksgiving approaches, we have some pretty consistent jobs.

Brines and roasts the turkey
Makes the stuffing
Brings her mother-in-law's raspberry jello salad (there are NEVER leftovers)
Plans to do the potatoes this year, too
Transports the turkey to my house and helps with the gravy
Brings the Cheescake Factory Pumpkin Cheescake
Makes the ham
Makes the rolls
Makes the sweet potatoes
Makes a few other side dishes
Makes lots of pies and desserts
Makes the fresh cranberry sauce
Hosts the dinner
Brandon and Ben, the husbands, are in charge of the dishes.  As of last year, Brandon also provides a smaller, barbequed turkey.
When my sister, Lisa, comes, she is in charge of homemade salsa and getting all the meat off the turkeys when the meal is over.  We usually have several other guests, as well, who bring along some of their family specialties, too.  It is quite a smorgasbord.
See all those plastic cups?  No one seems to mind that we keep it ultra simple, around here.  I'd rather have everyone enjoying games and conversation after dinner, than getting stuck with lots of dishes.  You can also see, from this picture, that I don't let a half painted wall keep me from inviting lots of people to my house.

Last year, I put Endeavor in charge of the place settings, and that is definitely going to become a tradition.  Trust my mini-Martha to come up with something like this:
Didn't she do a great job?  She wrapped the napkins around the utensils, with cute strips of decorative paper, and made origami boxes with our names on them out of coordinating papers.
The beans and boxes are part of a tradition that we adapted from my side of the family.  Every Thanksgiving, after the food has been blessed, we take turns going around the table and sharing things we are grateful for.  Everyone has a few kernels of corn or--in this case, beans (not sure why we used beans last year....maybe we couldn't find popcorn?)--and they drop one into their box each time they express their gratitude.  We go around the table until everyone has used up all of their kernels.  I love hearing all the different things that we have to be thankful for.

How do you celebrate Thanksgiving?  Do you have any unique traditions?

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