Saturday, November 23, 2013

Traditional

Thanksgiving is coming which has always been my most favorite time of the year. I love the universal everyone and anyone gather around cozy feel of it. Through the years, I’ve collected a series of rituals leading up to the big day. As I complete each one, I feel further tucked into Thanksgiving. Like it is a little pouch that picks me up when I am cold and tired at the end of a long fall, and carries me around in the warmth of stuffing fresh from the oven, and my family’s love.

A few weeks before, I go out and buy my Thanksgiving editions of Bon Appetit and Food and Wine. While I cannot cook 98% of what is inside the pages, I am dazzled by the pretty pictures of home and hearth and turkey. Usually I find at least one pie or cornbread recipe that contains less than 5 ingredients and seems manageable for an amateur like myself. I carefully turn down the corners of these pages as my own mother always did for her favorite recipes and articles. While I don’t imagine that one day I will have the fanciest of things to pass down to my own children, I envision handing them a ginormous and well-loved stack of vintage Thanksgiving magazines featuring a collection of recipes that mark the passage of time and evolution of my own tastes and gastronomical culture, which they will either receive with the same wonder and pleasure I had when I first bought them and eagerly turned the pages, or use as fire kindling. Either way, it will be a legacy from me to them of the holiday I so loved.

As we get closer to the big day, I begin washing and chopping cranberries; lots and lots of cranberries. They will be used in the loaves of cranberry bread I’ll bring to our Thanksgiving dinner and also to make bread to share with friends and family and teachers who we love and are grateful for. It is not my recipe, but one passed down from my own memories of many Thanksgivings as a child spent at my aunt’s house. As a grown up, the holiday is not complete without it. I will spend hours making this for us and others. And though I usually tire and bore and get lazy with cooking, I view baking and particularly holiday baking as an entirely different endeavor. Most of my memories of baking and learning to bake as a child were at my mother’s side. Learning how to carefully measure and sift. I will think of her and her green Tupperware measuring containers as I put on the world’s crappiest lifetime Christmas movie and happily chop away. It will feel warm and holiday-ish and special. I will love it.

Which leads me to Thanksgiving Day. Thanksgiving morning is never complete without the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. This must be watched in my pajamas with all the wonder and simplicity of a child seeing it for the first time. I will marvel at floats and balloons I’ve seen before and enjoy lip synched singing from artists I may or may not know or even like, because just doing so makes me feel little, like I am watching with my mom, like she is watching with my kids and sharing the wonder with them. It will make me feel like we are all watching together. I will not do a Rose Bowl parade or something telecast from California or Florida. This feels wrong. It must by New York. Also, it must be cold. There is nothing worse than a warm Thanksgiving. That feels misplaced; like watching the Price is Right at night or pronouncing New Haven with the emphasis on the New instead of the Haven. You just don’t do it. It feels wrong and weird. It must be cold and New York. And PJs. By G-d on Thanksgiving Day there must be pajamas till noon.

But the thing that always wraps it all up with a big bow is the people that fill the table. Through the years and the evolution of my own, my sisters’, and even my father’s family, our table has grown to include many new faces, both young and old. There are a few important ones missing too. I remember vividly my first Thanksgiving without my mother. It was the only time in my life I can remember the holiday not fitting me. It felt uncomfortable and forced. It felt joy less. It seemed unimaginable to spend the day I loved so much with the people I loved and have her not be there, yelling at my brother in law to start cooking the bird, hugging the kids and wearing her apron. It felt like a hole in the holiday. Like someone chopped off the first part. And had made it just another day that we foisted upon ourselves with strange traditions filled with turkey and sweet potatoes that no one really wanted.

It was at least another year or two before time and space healed that hole enough to help me realize she was still with us. That in all of those little traditions that led up to and defined the day at least for me, in some small way she was tucked inside each one, re-infusing the warmth back into my favorite day. As I gear up for all of my favorite traditions this year, I look forward to finding her there again.

Wishing you and yours the happiest of Thanksgivings, filled with all the people and traditions that make your holiday a day of joy, reflection, sweetness and thanks. And by G-d, let there be PJs till noon!

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