Thanksgiving has long since been one of my favorite holidays. It is a time for family to gather together and enjoy the year's blessing. I am fortunate in that my family is a close family, gathering during holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and sometimes just because the whole family had not been together for a while. My family is small in comparison to others' families; there are four in my immediate family and when together with my two aunts and their families and my grandparents, there are 14 of us in total. Regardless of the reason, there is always an abundance of our favorite foods. Every year at Thanksgiving, Grandpa always remarks that there is enough food to "feed the whole county."
The Thanksgiving tradition in my family is dinner on Thanksgiving Day at either one of my aunts' house. Meal planning is the responsibility of the women in the family, including the kids, with the planning beginning several weeks before Thanksgiving. No one person has responsibility for the entire meal. Each of the aunts, Grandma, and my mom would split up the menu and within a matter of several phone calls or emails, the entire menu is planned. Our Thanksgiving meal is fairly "traditional" with very few changes from year to year. There is turkey and ham, mashed and sweet potatoes, corn and green beans, cranberry salad, vegetable relish dish, rolls, pumpkin and pecan pie. In addition, there are usually several non-traditional appetizers for all of us to enjoy prior to the full meal. Over the years, I noticed that each female family member tended to be "assigned" the same food item year after year. For example, my mom traditionally brings the vegetable relish tray, the fruit tray, the rolls, the green beans and a dessert. Mom is rarely asked to bring salads, unless it is a vegetable salad as she does not like jell-o and does not like to make jell-o salads. My one aunt is great at making appetizers. She also is the one who brings the sweet potatoes as she is one of the few people who like sweet potatoes. My other aunt is great at making salads and insists on making the pecan pie. No one can make pumpkin pie like my grandma, so grandma usually has the task of making three or four pumpkin pies for the family to enjoy on Thanksgiving and then to take home for later.
Our Thanksgiving Day begins with all of us arriving at the designated "aunt's" house around 10:30 - 11:00 in the morning. The aroma in the house from the baking turkey and ham makes your tummy growl instantly. While not considered traditional Thanksgiving cuisine, appetizing dips and snacks are placed throughout the living and dining room. Family members begin grazing and sampling as goodies arrive and are placed either in the oven or in the refrigerator. If someone brings a "new" dessert, several family members have to sample immediately. Men and women alike congregate in the kitchen and dining room to graze and converse. Wine is a tradition in my family and is served with Grandpa being responsible for removing the cork and serving the wine. A toast is made, also the responsibility of Grandpa. The non-wine drinkers finish the toast and then reach for a beverage of choice. The men usually make their way towards the living room where invariably a football game is already on and in process. The women begin getting the potatoes mashed, the vegetable and fruit trays assembled, and food placed on the table. Grandma's job is to cut the ham while Grandpa is called into the kitchen to carve the turkey. For as long as I can remember, only Grandpa carves the turkey, sampling to make sure it is done for all others to enjoy.
When the six grandchildren were younger, the six of us would get to fill our plates first and then sit at a table designated as the "kids table". Following grace, we were allowed to eat with the adults sitting at the main table. Food would be passed around counter clockwise with far more food on the table than we could possibly eat in one seating. Once we got older and all of us were in high school, the six grandchildren were seated at the main table, usually at one end of the table with the adults at the other end. Grandpa always sits at the head of the table with Grandma sitting to his left. Husbands and wives always sit together. The year following my aunt's divorce was very awkward for all of us, but we have since adjusted with a slightly altered "seating" arrangement. Desserts are rarely served immediately following dinner. Desserts are saved for later in the day following the evening meal.
While meal planning, preparation and serving are the responsibilities of the women in the family, Thanksgiving would not be the same without my Grandpa and the few men in the family. The Thanksgiving meal is not fancy, but neither are our family traditions. As I commented at the beginning, Thanksgiving is one of my favorite family holidays as it is during this time of year, that I realize the blessings that I have been so richly given.