The Making of Traditions

A throwback a couple weeks ago to Thanksgiving but still fit the current season.

Previously Published in the Hughson Chronicle_Denair Dispatch.


All afternoon we newlyweds danced around singing, “the bird, bird, bird, the bird is the word.” When the time came, in a 5×8 foot kitchen we carved our first turkey. There was no room to serve the food, so we washed pots and pans trying to create space for the meal. By the time we and our guests, our family-less friends in the DC area, sat down to eat, the food was cold. No one acted disappointed. We were glad to be together.

As a child, Thanksgiving boasted of a turkey and a ham, and before pumpkin spice was the ubiquitous sign of fall in Northern California, my mother was already cranking out pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheesecake and pumpkin bars in mass quantities for our Thanksgiving celebration. Friday morning was spent lounging with coupons spread all over the table as the men planned their game of which hot item to go after. Only two of them cared, but everyone was in it to win.

I should have known how different Thanksgiving would look for me as a married woman when I spent Thanksgiving night counting the minutes between abdominal pains, and by 4 a.m. knew I would not be shopping that Friday. Instead, my son would be born.

There are traditions as a child I recall sprinkled throughout my youth. In late childhood and adolescence, I began to see those traditions fade into the background. I ached to hold onto them and argued that, “it must continue!” I thought we were giving up on something to let them loose.

Now that I am older, I have the broader perspective that gives the thirty-something-year-old the advantage over the fourteen-year-old. Traditions must change and adapt if they are to continue. Rare, and priceless, is the family, who can hold spaghetti night every Sunday for decades, and continue even after the matriarch has passed. As one generation goes to rest and another emerges, traditions must exhibit flexibility to accommodate the newest and most demanding members of the family.

Due to an increasing number of those little members, and a decreasing desire to uproot them to visit relatives who have no need for childproofing, we began to celebrate Thanksgiving at home. It is my nature to invite everyone. It is my nature to roll up my sleeves and make the sacrifices we need in order to honor tradition. With a batch of little ones in the house, I had to say no to my nature.

We purchase a small turkey and keep the side dishes to the essentials. We move our television set to the living room and play “Miracle on 34th Street” so the kitchen will be a place of peace rather than an extension of the chaos a beautiful, busy, bunch of children produce. We eat and share the things we are grateful for from the last year. After dinner, we finish the movie and put the kids to bed.

On Friday morning, I remember the fun of riding around with my aunt and mother while we shopped all day in Redding and ate lunch at a Chinese restaurant.

With the ever-earlier release of ads and disappointing deals, my Black Friday focus shifted from commentary on commercialism and marketing to an unrivaled excitement over Small Business Saturday and Mod Shop, a handmade night market in Downtown Modesto. Whether I spend money or not, the experience of going through the crowds to see pieces of art and craft sold by their makers has become a tradition for me.

As a young family, we continue to develop our traditions. At the heart of a tradition is a belief in something timeless, allowing annual routines to take on meaning as simple as, “it’s what we always do.” Those traditions become road markers throughout the year, “I can’t believe it’s Thanksgiving already!” Their repetition facilitates children’s memory of what took place before they were much aware of the world outside their home, “we used to always play Mario Cart.”

Our practices, and therefore traditions, must be different because our needs are different. We will add or delete based on what we want to communicate about this holiday, gratitude or gluttony. In the midst of the occasional kitchen chaos or soupy cranberry sauce, do I communicate with my mood that this day is a blessing or a curse?

Tradition-making is a tall order. The good news is, like parenting and life itself, our success or failure does not come from one moment, but from a thousand moments woven together where even the “failures” contribute to the joy of the overall design. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

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