Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

Holiday Rituals: Sunday musings…11/24/19

“The sign of a healthy ritual is one that can be changed.”

This is my favorite time of year. Thanksgiving, that is. I’m not so much a fan of the whole “Holiday Season” thing, given that it’s all about the commerce of Christmas. What I really love is Thanksgiving. It’s pure, or at least as pure as a holiday can be in our hyper market-driven American lives. For those of you who are now being launched out of your chairs with a knee-jerk response about the heinous effect of the Pilgrims on the indigenous natives here long before the westward move from Europe, save your breath. What I’m talking about is not in any way related to anything historical other than the traditional myth of generosity and comity I first learned about in kindergarten. Thanksgiving for me is simple and pure. We gather and break bread, the only reason to do so being that we are thankful for the opportunity.

We joke in the White family that our traditions, especially those around holidays, are set in stone. Do it twice and it’s as permanent as Stonehenge. While this is certainly true on average, looking back there have been some mileposts where a turn was made. Actually, more than a few. In the earliest of days my maternal grandparents hosted Thanksgiving in New Jersey. This went on until my Dad had enough of traveling with 3 and then 4 little ones. Turkey Day moved to our home for the next 20 years or so. I have to admit that I don’t remember whether or not Gamma and Gramp were there in the tiny house in Southbridge; I cannot remember a Thanksgiving without Gamma once we moved to RI, at least after Gramp died.

Why can’t I remember where she sat?

Take a moment and think about your family meal. What time did you eat as a kid? Do you remember why that was the time? And the meal itself; what did your family eat and how was it prepared? It was always the same, each year, right? We were a football house. In RI every high school has a Thanksgiving Day game. Same for Massachusetts. The annual rivalry with Bartlett (Webster) has been a thing in Southbridge for decades. I got to play in one as a freshman, but I can remember going to the game to see our childhood heroes, the gods who strapped on the pads for the Pioneers, from my grade school years. My first cup of coffee was at at Bartlett/Southbridge Thanksgiving Day game when they ran out of hot chocolate. We ate around 3 if memory serves. The games began at 11 and were done by 1:00. Long after I hung up my cleats in RI we all piled on our warmest outerwear and watched Lincoln High play its annual version of the game.

Stuff starts to change when you get married and the whole in-law thing enters into the Holiday equation. Beth and I are both first-born, first-married, first to have kids (and grandkids) in both of our families. Since our families lived 6 or 7 hours apart there was no way to pull off the double-dinner dance so delicately done by countless friends who married local. It’s funny how you notice the differences in family traditions so much more than that which is the same. The Whites and the Hursts all ended up with magnificent meals, both nutritionally and spiritually satisfying in every way, albeit by vastly different routes. Beth’s family sourced everything locally, each item plucked from the farm within days of Thanksgiving, every course and dessert made from scratch. In our house the turkey was frozen long before dinner, and the only things made from scratch were the mashed potatoes (Dad was very particular about them) and the stuffing.

And yet both meals were the best meals I ate every single year because they were baked in love and enjoyed in the company of those I loved and who loved me.

Change has continued to come to our Thanksgiving rituals as the next generation went to college and began to (yikes!) marry themselves. Two generations of in-laws to manage now. Whoa. Children living out of town with job schedules and travel logistics to contend with. Siblings who live close enough to give at least a passing thought to joining around a single table, and other sets of siblings just far enough apart that to do so would require a quantum computer and a Papal decree. Our little family alternates years as we did for so long when our kids were young. This is an “off” year for us. Beth and I will see one child and his family for a short time at brunch. That will be it for our family gathering, at least on Thanksgiving Day. Another family will fold us into the embrace of their ritual, a change for both of us.

The details change, but do the rituals of Thanksgiving change as well? I don’t think so. At least not enough to change how I feel about Thanksgiving or how I remember our Thanksgivings of yore. We will enjoy the rituals that have surrounded the signature ritual, the Thanksgiving Day meal, and for this year they will be enough. Pizza on Wednesday to usher in the Holiday, and the best steaks we can find on Friday. On Saturday I’ll try to find some way to serve lasagna; we always had Mrs. Cunniff’s ready to defrost after 3 days of leftovers. I’ll bring Cakebread Chardonnay (and think of my sister Tracey) to our friends’ house for dinner, almost 30 years of ritual in that little gesture alone. With those steaks we will drink Chateauneuf de Pape, the only wine my Dad could identify; he had the world’s worst palate and was subsequently the easiest wine drinker to please except on the Friday after Thanksgiving when only Chateauneuf de Pape would do.

The sweet sadness of change will be lightened for me by the strength of the rituals that persist. Each one has grown to fill the space created by inevitable change. By both loss and gain. The rituals that we have now have come from the same place as those they have replaced, a place of love, a place filled with thanks for that love. Yes, this is my favorite time of year. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Leave a Reply