Giving thanks in odd times

We’re taking orders for Thanksgiving turkeys, which got me thinking about my own kind of weird, but evolving relationship with the holiday.

I think I grew up with a pretty traditional meal. Sometimes it was at my home, sometimes it was at my grandparents, crammed at a card table with my cousins. The one thing that sticks out is the cranberry sauce. Fresh out of a can, with the aluminum can ridges still visible on the slices.

I got married and moved out of New York. My traditions became those of my in-laws, where we went each year. The canned cranberry sauce was replaced with fresh berries and nuts. Instead of the free frozen turkey gifted to my dad from his boss at the mill, farm-raised turkeys, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding took center stage. There was a lot of wine and a lot of noise. It wasn’t better or worse than what I knew, just different. But it was now mine and I was fine with that.

When I found myself mid-divorce a decade later, I moved back to New York, alone with my daughters. I couldn’t bear to do Thanksgiving that first year. Those traditions weren’t mine anymore. It was just me and my girls and I was sad.

Instead of wallowing, I decided to try something different. Anything kind of close to our old ways was still too raw.

I decided since America is rich with a variety of people from all over the globe, I could pick any culture at all and celebrate it.

One year we cooked a traditional Thai meal, another we dined out on authentic Indian cuisine. One year found us in Montreal eating poutine and corned beef. Squeezed in there once was a vegetarian feast that was way more complicated than I’d anticipated. 

When I was ready to return to a more traditional Thanksgiving, it was still just the three of us, so a turkey and all the fix-in’s seemed a bit much. I tried my hand for the first time at roasting a duck.

The duck was perfect in size and it seemed very special. It became our thing and I was happy. My girls learned to roast duck (there’s a lot more to this story which includes a trip to the ER and a broken ankle, but I won’t get into that now) and this continued for several more years.

My girls are both now grown and married and I’ve since remarried myself. 

With my husband and step-children came new traditions. None better or worse, just different.

I can embrace the fact that we can try new things and that, in itself, can be a tradition, too.

I think for many of us, this year is going to be different. Smaller gatherings, less travel, and it may be sad. 

While I don’t think we should ignore the strangeness of this season, I do think we can take the opportunity to try something different. If trying to keep this holiday as normal as possible brings you more pain, then simply don’t do it. We’re grown ups, we can do what we want. Take the pressure off and order take out. Try a duck, like me, if you’ve got that smaller crowd. Whatever you choose, find something to be thankful for in it, because that’s what we’re really supposed to be doing, anyway. 

This year, I’m looking forward to bringing back some old stuff and I can’t wait to slice that canned cranberry sauce and highlight those aluminum can ridges. 

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