Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Shifting Tides of Thanksgiving Traditions

by CWO guest blogger Caryn Welz-Ritchie

 Thanksgiving is a holiday steeped in tradition. As families come together, traditions blend and new ones develop. When children grow up and start families of their own, more traditions are born. In time, there are a lot of traditions to be followed, some of which don’t make the cut.

The Thanksgiving traditions in my family focused only on the food. Special china or silver did not appear. The table setting was not Martha Stewart. The food was what was important, and it was everywhere. 

My Aunt Mary would come over and we would bake pies a few days ahead. These were traditional: apple, blueberry, pumpkin and chocolate. My Italian grandparents would come over the morning of Thanksgiving and preside over the cooking. My Mother’s six sisters and their families arrived later.

The meal had to include a pasta course (usually lasagna), a turkey, a ham (because Aunt Anna didn’t like turkey), and a beef roast just because the oven was already on.

The sides were basic and less important. What was more of a tradition was the selection of fruits and nuts. We had pomegranates, dried figs and dates, and bowls of assorted nuts in their shell. After dessert we’d sit around and drink wine, crack nuts and play pinochle or seven and one-half, the Sicilian version of black jack. We didn’t have touch football games with the cousins like “the Medagons”, my American friends.

My husband’s family sat down to an elegant table using his grandmother’s Limoges china and engraved silver. Serving dishes were silver and glassware was crystal. Cloth napkins were folded at each place setting (in lieu of a community mopene). A Russell Stover foil-wrapped turkey sat on each dessert plate.  Handmade cloth John and Priscilla Alden dolls sat on the table next to small plaster turkeys. The dolls and turkeys have sat on a Ritchie Thanksgiving table for over 100 years. 

The turkey was carved at the table, just like in a Norman Rockwell painting.  Everyone was dressed in their best, all seven of them: my husband, his parents, grandmother and three maiden aunts. Dinner was polite and quiet. After dinner, desert was one pie and some type of steamed pudding with hard sauce (I had never heard of this). Footballs games were watched and board games were played and everyone went home early.

When Thanksgiving started to be at our house, my husband and I blended our family traditions. I incorporated the elegance from his family with the good food from mine. I use his grandmother’s china and silver. The John and Priscilla dolls and the plaster turkeys sit proudly in their places of honor. The table is elegant yet welcoming. 
I usually cook lasagna and a turkey. There are many desserts, including pies and Italian pastry, and the traditional dried fruits and nuts. I’m the only one to bother to crack the nuts and eat the figs and dates, but this tradition is important to me. 

The guest list is wide open. We have our family and invite anyone else who is going to be alone: neighbors, college friends of my sons and friends of friends. This was our traditional Thanksgiving until we moved to Cape Cod.

Our Thanksgivings on Cape Cod changed. Both our sons moved to other parts of the country and the new tradition was that they did not come home for Thanksgiving. 

I still cooked for Keith and I, and tried to convince other neighbors whose children were away to join us. It has been this way for the last 10 years, and it always has made me sad. I need the noise of a crowd, or at least a small gathering. 

This year we will be making new traditions. My son and his wife have moved to Cape Cod after living in California for the past ten years. They will be with us and we will cook our dinner together.

They traditionally make a champagne crusted spiral ham and drink Mimosas all day with the leftover champagne. My husband wants a traditional turkey dinner along with the ham. I don’t eat meat anymore so I’ll probably make a pasta dish.

We seem to have come full circle. As long as I have the oven on I may as well throw in a beef roast. 

John and Priscilla Alden will once again preside over dinner. After dinner we will drink wine, watch football and play card games. The numbers are fewer, Canasta replaces pinochle, but the love of family is the tradition that is the constant with each generation. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

If you have Thanksgiving traditions that you’d like to share with our readers, please email CWO publisher Nicola Burnell with your story: Nicola@CapeWomenOnline.com

1 comment:

  1. Karyn! I did not know your were a pisana!! I totally grasped your thoughts and lived through your descriptions. My Thanksgivings, growing up in the Bronx, were exactly as yours, starting with lasagna, ending with the nuts and it was always my grandmother who did every part. My husband's family, also Italian-American, played it out differently. They did their holidays much more in the tradition of the "Metagaini". But, it was my grandmother who started the chocolate turkey-at-the-plate for the kiddies and to this day, that tradition goes on. I just gave Lucy and Phoebe their turkeys to pack in the suitcases and place on the table of the "Metagani" grandparents in Florida and this year, we are celebrating our first "Friendsgiving" right here, on the Cape. Our circle has not yet come around.