What a happy holiday Thanksgiving is, as over the river and through the wood we travel back home to be together. Soon family and friends will be gathered around groaning dining room tables for turkey-with-all-the-trimmings feasts.
But what is this we spy? A sadder but wiser reader, who thought her Thanksgiving dinner was a rather humdrum affair, has replaced the family's traditional candied yams with an acorn squash and maple syrup souffle.
"What? No sweet potatoes?" they cry. "But we always have sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving."
Let us leave this sorry scene. Oh, reader, trust Mrs. Sharp. It could have been avoided and will be at your happy homes. We do not wish to become slaves to tradition, but some customs are treasured, such as your family's Thanksgiving bill of fare.
If your family has enjoyed corn bread, onion and sage stuffing since Plymouth Rock, this is not the year to substitute chestnut and prunes. The same advice applies to cranberry sauce and vegetables. No parsnip fritters if they expect them creamed; no crushed cranberries and orange relish if they anticipate plain strained jelly.
"But, Mrs. Sharp," you protest. "How do we ever get our families to try anything new? If we can't even get them to eat a new dish, how can we get them to try a new family activity?"
Subtlely, my dears.
Take our souffle, for example. Mrs. Sharp would never substitute it for the candied yams, but would place it on the table (without too much fanfare) in addition to the yams. This way the family can try it without giving up anything known and loved.
Many contemporary parents long for stability and a sense of belonging, but they regard traditions as family fossils to be hauled out of the attic for the sake of sentiment along with the turkey platter this time of year.
Mrs. Sharp thinks traditions are more like recipes. Some we don't alter a bit because they are perfect. Others need a dash of this or that to suit our family's taste.
As with any new dish, you'll know soon enough whether the custom suits your family. Did they enjoy it? Did you? Was the activity worth the effort it took? In the Sharp household, to qualify as a "tradition," an activity has to be repeated at least twice.
Still, before you can create culinary delights, you need first to read the recipe, make sure you have all the ingredients and then set aside the time in the kitchen.
The same principle applies to cooking up family fun: Read ahead (for inspiration), check ingredients (for information) and set aside the time (for the whole family's involvement and enjoyment). The result will be your family's just desserts: loving memories. Here are some of Mrs. Sharp's Thanksgiving traditions you might wish to make your own.
The Thanksgiving Hamper: Our family's first Thanksgiving tradition occurs a few days before, when the children help prepare the Thanksgiving hamper for some needy family. As parents, we all want to encourage our children to cultivate a sense of gratitude. When children assist in gathering and preparing food gifts and then help to pack a basket and deliver it, they learn the deeper significance of Thanksgiving and see how much they have to be thankful for.
In Mrs. Sharp's home, we try to duplicate our dinner to give away, down to baking extra pies. Granted, this tradition involves extra effort and expense, but whatever you are able to help your children do for others--even donating a few cans of nonperishable items to a food bank--will be richly worth your trouble. Our children's Thanksgiving hamper always returns much more to our family than we could ever give away.
The Thanksgiving Table: Even the task of setting the table can become a tradition at Thanksgiving. With a festive attitude, what is viewed as a daily duty is transformed into a holiday privilege. The children understand that our Thanksgiving celebration belongs to them as well as the grown-ups.
While Mrs. Sharp gets great pleasure from laying out her best china, sparkling crystal and freshly pressed white linen for our Thanksgiving dinner, she knows the children need to make their contributions to our decorations, which are the table's place card "favors."
Much merriment results each year from the children's place cards. A few weeks before, Mrs. Sharp gives them a box of old photographs. They cut out heads of family members and mount them on funny figures of people and animals selected from magazines. These are then pasted on cardboard for use as our place cards. When guests ask to take the place cards home, it doubles the children's pleasure and ensures that the tradition is repeated each year.
Thanksgiving! What a world of pleasant memories this lovely old-fashioned word recalls. May peace and plenty be your family's portion, now and always.