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SALMAGUNDI: Searching for new Thanksgiving traditions

Scott T. Holland is a former associate editor of The Times who continues to contribute his column plus help with editing and writing. He can be reached at scotth@mywebtimes.com, facebook.com/salmagundi or twitter.com/sth749.
Scott T. Holland is a former associate editor of The Times who continues to contribute his column plus help with editing and writing. He can be reached at scotth@mywebtimes.com, facebook.com/salmagundi or twitter.com/sth749.

Next week will mark my 16th Thanksgiving as a married man and 14th as a dad. In that time we’ve lived in five houses in two states and had four sons. And while we’ve created certain traditions throughout the year, Thanksgiving hasn’t been one of the benchmarks.

But it’s never too late to start, and so I turned to social media. The goal was to highlight obscure traditions — “grandpa always carves the turkey” doesn’t need to be group sourced — and I did come across a few highlights:

“Many holidays ago, my mom bought the Berenstain Bears Thanksgiving special on VHS to entertain some younger kids who were joining us. The kids didn't like it, but 20-plus years later, we still hook up the VCR to watch it and sing along every year.”

“Leave the house at noon. Drive ‘clear across town’ to my mother’s house, arriving at 12:19 because we must listen to ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ on the way. We will sit in the car in her driveway if need be until it is over. When radio stations quit playing this, we put it on a player and still sit in her driveway.”

“When we were little, my dad would walk from bedroom to bedroom, at like 5 a.m., holding the uncooked turkey and making it dance for all us kids. It was funny as a grade-schooler, not so much as a high-schooler who didn’t appreciate being woken up so early with a fat slimy bird.”

“I play Dungeons & Dragons with my wife and her cousins.”

“Giving kids new Christmas PJs on Thanksgiving night. Usually homemade — this year went to Kohl’s.”

“Going to the living room after dinner to sing hymns. Great Uncle Frank knew the bass part and words to all verses of every hymn.”

Unsurprisingly, some tips were food (and alcohol) based:

“We always have O & H Kringles for breakfast.”

“Starting to drink at 9:30 a.m. When we’d walk through the door, my uncles would have an old fashioned made for my dad right then and there.”

“The kids make the butter for dinner with cream in a mason jar.”

“Cooks get milkshakes while cooking. Make with French vanilla ice cream and Bailey’s. No milk allowed, just ice cream and booze.”

“I lay out the recipes on the island, along with ingredients and pans to go with them. Each person has to pick two! My son learned how to make mashed potatoes from scratch the first year. It was messy, but I didn’t have to do it! We have a great time in the kitchen together, too!”

A few hewed toward the decoration side:

“Freezing candles so the wax melts slower.”

“Wearing turkey hats.”

“My daughter has always made our name cards ever since she could write. I’ve saved all of them and they are adorable!”

“We make a handprint turkey table runner, the kids redo it every year and we watch it — and them — grow.”

“After Thanksgiving dinner, my grandmother entrusted all of us grandkids to decorate her house for Christmas. We had a blast! Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday mostly because of that. I loved sharing the day with my cousins. So thankful I had them since I never had siblings.”

I also asked for tips to make the day easier or more delicious and received a lot of smart suggestions that would not be out of place in your favorite home and garden periodical: a handful of turkey recipes — for an oven, electric roaster, deep fryer and a steel garbage can — as well as suggestions like cutting bread for stuffing the night before, dry brining the bird two days in advance, making real cranberry relish and cooking mashed potatoes in the slow cooker to free up a stovetop burner.

Also sorted under “making it easier” were these two comments:

“Go to Disney World. This will be our third year of using this tactic and it has no cooking, cleaning, dishes, stress or traveling on ice/snow.”

“We hit a nearby casino buffet instead of cooking a huge meal. Yup.”

Taking our kids on a Disney trip would by no means be stress free, but I fully embrace the spirit of breaking free from a tradition once that routine becomes a compulsion. The obligation to make everything perfect can quickly rob the joy and gratitude from any occasion. So why bother? Just be authentic.

Hopefully these ideas have offered some inspiration. Feel free to share your suggestions for a future column — and have a happy Thanksgiving.

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