As I prepare the Thanksgiving meal, my thoughts turn to traditions. Every family has their own holiday traditions, whether they know it or not. I remember when my kids were younger I was worried that we did not have or were not making Thanksgiving traditions. If someone were to ask me what our family traditions were back then, I was always at a bit of a loss for words. As I look back, however, I realize that for some families, traditions are steadily in place and passed on from generation to generation, but in our case, sometimes they evolve as families change.
My interest in traditions comes from a curiosity of different cultures and unique foods. While Thanksgiving has a traditional American menu, I love to hear about infusing cultural foods and family customs into the holiday. America is one big melting pot, after all. So, I decided to delve a bit deeper into the subject of merging tradition with culture and asked the Foodie On Campus interns. Our interns are fairly diverse; they come from different cultures, religions, ethnicities and regions of the country. Here are some of their stories:
Every year we get together with my mom’s entire side of the family, but we rotate locations. Some of the food is prepped at each family member’s house. Between 10am and noon, all the relatives bring the food they have prepared to the host’s house. There they continue to cook for hours until and even after dinner. The kids usually come with the parents and the older kids help prepare the food. Our eldest aunt always prepares the turkey with her special nontraditional stuffing recipe and makes the gravy for the mashed potatoes. Otherwise the rest of the food varies from traditional American Thanksgiving food to Vietnamese noodles (but I think the kids have complained enough to make that not happen anymore). Lately, the food has been served at one very, very large table so everyone sits together. Usually the adults are closer to the front and the kids towards the end. My grandma and the kids are typically served first and then adults have at it. Eating lasts for a very long time. Once dinner is finished, there is a huge clean up while some parents start to sing karaoke. While that is happening, desserts are left on the table and eaten throughout the night.
Thanksgiving is usually at my house and we have my relatives over either from my mother’s side or father’s side, alternating every year. The day starts by waking up early and heading to the kitchen to start cooking. We always have a Thanksgiving breakfast with just my immediate family of six, while watching the NYC Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV. After breakfast, the cooking really begins. I love to help in the kitchen, and that is where I spend most of my day. Our guests usually arrive early to mid afternoon and we sit down to feast around 4.
Ever since I can remember, my cousins and I have put on a Thanksgiving play when we finish dinner earlier than the adults. With all of my cousins and myself, we have 9 “kids”, although there are now 4 of us over 18. Usually we all dress up in silly costumes and parade around telling some abbreviated version of the Thanksgiving story with music playing. We used to make paper tickets and hand them out to the adults and check in everyone at the “stage door,” but more recently we just send up the youngest cousins to bring everyone downstairs to watch the play. It’s always a fun time with lots of laughter and we look forward to it every year!
I celebrated my first Thanksgiving in fourth grade when I moved to the US from Uganda. I learned most of what I know about the holiday from school; my class actually had a pre-thanksgiving dinner party with dishes from my classmates’ families. This helped me better understand the holiday. A lot has changed since then since I now have a degree in culinary arts and actually plan the menu and cook most of the dishes for the holiday. We make it an all-day affair from brunch to dinner and dessert. We fill the house with the sounds of African music and celebrate with our immediate family and friends. Aside from traditional Thanksgiving foods we drink African tea, which is essentially a ginger spiced chai. Since much of Ugandan cuisine has as strong Indian influence we also enjoy homemade samosas and chapatti, which are popular Ugandan holiday foods.
My family has a Thanksgiving tradition of gathering at my grandma’s house. We are a really big family, there are about 70 of us, and we have to make a lot of food. One year, we had 7 whole turkeys, 20 pounds of mashed potatoes, and 11 pies just to give you an idea. It is always a lot of fun because everyone helps out with the Thanksgiving meal and it is a chance for us all to appreciate what we have together.
Every Thanksgiving, my dad’s side of the family comes over around 1. My mom makes most of the food and my aunts, uncles and grandparents bring the sides. My dad’s mom brings the best stuffing I have ever tasted and it disappears quickly. While the parents converse upstairs, all the kids play board games downstairs until it is time to eat. Traditionally, before we eat, we all stand in a circle and hold hands and share what we are thankful for. Then we feast on all the yummy food. After we are finished eating and cleaning up, the kids watch a movie while the parents watch football.
These stories represent the American Thanksgiving, diverse yet similar. From watching the Macy’s parade in the morning to infusing African or Vietnamese food into the celebration, they all involve spending quality time with friends and family, gratitude and, of course, food!
I am grateful to have my family home for the holiday, safe and sound. Here is to a tastefully delicious holiday season.