Nov 18, 2010

Thanksgiving~Then and Now*

Thanksgiving was always a special day in our family when I was growing up. I have nothing but sweet memories of all the preparations and of a feast day that was beyond comparison. Mom would get up very early in the morning and start the preparations for our holiday meal. We always woke up to that familiar smell of roasting turkey that we couldn’t wait to taste. There were four of us girls (along with our three brothers) and each of us were assigned jobs to do. Counting out-of-town relatives and friends we would invite, we always had at least 25 people for dinner. That meant setting up extra tables and chairs in the living room to extend our dining room table.

We never complained about the extra work, but instead took great pride in being part of it all. As we worked, the atmosphere was charged with excitement. It seems like every year we tried to make it even more special than the last. Everyone dressed in their Sunday best, and so all of us girls would put on one of Grandma’s starched and pressed homemade aprons. Some of the jobs we girls had from the time we were very young were stuffing celery sticks with cream cheese, filling our mom's pretty cut glass dishes with olives and pickles, ironing tablecloths and cloth napkins, and setting the table with the beautiful china from the hutch. We always made place cards and spent a lot of time trying to figure out who should sit where. As guests arrived, we would offer appetizers, such as cheese and crackers and our stuffed celery sticks.

My dad always insisted on a crackling fire to add to the festive atmosphere, even though by the time everyone got there, it would get way too warm in the rooms! But he loved the tradition. It puts a smile on my face to remember how happy it made him. My dad loved nothing more than having his large family gather together for holidays.

For many years, even after we all grew up and moved away from home, we came back for Thanksgiving. Each year the numbers grew as we found a place at the table for our own children as well. Mom loved doing this holiday more than any other. She was just like a mother hen gathering her chicks together.

Eventually we just became too large of an extended family to all gather in one home, so we had to start dividing up. Mine became one of the "host" homes...and a baton was passed. I kept many of the same traditions we had when I was growing up, and added a few of my own. As everyone gathered around the table, we would either have an appropriate Thanksgiving reading, some singing, or go around the table with each one telling something they were thankful for.

One year I made a small twig tree which I had in the middle of the kitchen table. Around it were construction paper leaves in fall colors with strings attached. As each guest arrived, they wrote something they were thankful for on the leaf and hung it on the tree. It made a nice centerpiece. To this day I love setting a beautiful table and making guests feel pampered. I’m sure it all stems back to my great memories of the way our family celebrated the holiday. I still like the simple appetizers, and usually have a few on the kitchen counter to hold folks over till everyone arrives and dinner is served.

We have some younger friends whose extended families are out of state and they often join us for Thanksgiving. A few years back they came early to help out. Something I like to do is have some hot cider steaming on the stove. My friend beamed as she carried hot cups to the front door to greet the guests while her husband helped by hanging the coats. How could a guest not feel welcomed? That same year we had a special reading about the history of the first Thanksgiving, and we also had guitar music and singing by our two sons and a soon-to-be daughter-in-law. Precious memories.

Sadly, many of us are geographically scattered now so it is rare that we all are together on Thanksgiving. But with grandchildren and great-grandchildren, we are still too large a group to be at any one house. Last year we tried something different. We rented the party room at mom's condo so at least as many as could make it would be all together in one place. The experiment worked out really well, and so this year we are doing the same. While my heart resists the necessary changes in long standing traditions, I’m looking forward to doing it again, knowing that being together as family trumps all. With grateful hearts, we will be thankful once again for that blessing.


*I recently joined a Christian Writers Group at our church and I needed to write something Thanksgiving-related this week. I reworked a post I did last year, trying to make adjustments according to critiques I've had so far. I'm really excited to be in this group and I know I will learn a lot! Thought I would post this week's work ~ please be gentle readers!


Wanda..... said...

No need to be gentle Jacquelyn... it was a very nice read. I remember your gathering last Thanksgiving, where your mom resides!
A Thanksgiving/Christmas tradition we have is to have adults and children take home a page from a Christmas Coloring book, do their best job coloring and bring them back Christmas Eve, when they all came to open presents at gramma's...their creations were placed in a basket by the door and a ceremony of viewing would be later. We always liked to open presents after dark and this helped satisfy the anxious little ones! The adult children almost make masterpieces with the coloring pages! :)

Jacquelyn Stager said...

Thanks Wanda! Oh I love that coloring tradition you had. you've got my wheels turning! We have had to make some changes in our Christmas gathering traditions since my dad died...we just haven't been able to attempt to do things "the same" ... This sounds like a fantastic idea! Have a great weekend!

Rebecca said...

No critiques from THIS "commenter"! 'Twas so much fun reading your thanksgiving history...

Jess said...

Sweet Post Jacquelyn!
I too remember your Thanksgiving gathering at your Mom's last year. And I delight in picturing all the festive activity in your house during your childhood.
LOVE your twig tree full of "thankful" leaves!
A variation at our house was that I would draw a large, smiling turkey on poster board (with Pilgrim hat of course) and provide colored feathes of construction paper for guests to write out their thankful thoughts. Then add them to the bird!
Hmmm...birds of a feather think a lot alike! LOL
Much love, Jess