This past weekend I traveled from London to Michigan to spend time at home with my parents. They are the best at giving a warm welcome. The temperature outside was unusually cold, lots of icy scenes and massive falling snowflakes, so we found ourselves wanting to hibernate in their cozy home most of the weekend. So relaxing! I relished in the company of extended family and even ran into some dear old friends when we ventured downtown to my favorite cafe, Populace. It was a wonderful pre-thanksgiving visit.
This time of year most of us feel a desire to connect with family, and probably the strongest of all holiday traditions is just to be together. Often this entails making a kind of pilgrimage back to one’s hometown which can be truly transporting. For some it can be magical, marveling how familiar people and places have changed over time, celebrating that change and fondly remembering how things used to be. For others this effort can be draining or stressful – you feel all types of emotions, socializing in tight quarters with people that may really know how to push your buttons! This weekend I felt the former, fully nostalgic and blissful, recalling memories and scents and the way things looked and felt. I soaked in the voices of my family, their tendencies and habits, thankful for the love and beauty I found all around me.
I was in the mood to reminisce. To warm us up one afternoon, mom and I fished out her beautiful china and made a proper English tea. Dad snapped away on his camera and I took notes as we recounted some of our favorite thanksgiving traditions.
My mother’s only teapot, from her wedding china set that her grandmother gifted her.
1. Setting the table. At my mom’s home, this is often done a couple days in advance. She uses natural elements like fruits, nuts, leaves, flowers and gourds. Usually there is special wheat china we use, which is a nod to her own grandmother Lenora who was a collector of wonderfully ornate china sets (she had over 40!) in her lifetime. Lenora had a real passion for setting a beautiful table for her family to gather around, and this has become an important tradition now for my mom, sister and I. Here are a few images of the table settings we’ve concocted over the years:
My thanksgiving table setting using clementines (with leaves), pewter chargers and vintage glassware.
My mom’s classic place setting, complete with her wheat china, gold accents, braided straw chargers and name tag.
A modern green & gold thanksgiving table, one of my first times hosting when we lived in NYC.
2. Planning the Thanksgiving Menu. Our menu always includes roasted turkey (of course!), white and sweet potato dishes, homemade cranberry sauce (usually more like a compote or chutney), dressing / stuffing and gravy made from scratch using an old family recipe, squash, brussels sprouts, and homemade pumpkin pie with real whipped cream. We serve red wine and hot mulled apple cider to drink. Mom’s number one tip is to sort the menu in time order (shortest to longest prep), then work backwards. We make ahead things like the cranberry sauce, squash and pies the night before.
My mother’s traditional thanksgiving table.
3. Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The moment we wake up on thanksgiving day, mom puts on a pot of fresh coffee, pulls cinnamon buns out of the oven, and we switch on the parade to watch the spectacular floats bobbing down Broadway. NYC has always been a special feature in our hearts and home. And just ask my dad, we found through experience that the best place to view the parade is from the comfort of your own living room!
4. Bringing Home our Christmas Tree. Growing up, I knew of no such thing as Black Friday. The day after Thanksgiving we would bundle up in our warmest clothes, borrow grandpa’s truck, and all four of us (plus doggy!) would trek out to a Christmas Tree farm forest and cut down our own tree. The hunt was quite serious and took many hours – it had to be the perfect shape, color, smell! Once we agreed on one, Dad would hop down underneath the tree with his saw and we would catch it as it fell. These days, we have a false tree (saving the environment we hope), but we keep the tradition of setting up & decorating the tree in our home on the day after thanksgiving.
5. Leftover Turkey Sandwiches. Nothing beat mom’s hearty leftover turkey sandwiches, dressed up with tangy mayo on whole grain bread. I never tired of eating them between rounds of reading, watching holiday movies and playing board games with the family all weekend.
What traditions does your family keep for thanksgiving? Do you invent new ones as time passes, or stay traditional? One new tradition mom wants to start this year is to write out what you are grateful for on cards. I can’t wait to hear what you’re planning.
Photo credits: tea photos by John Bunnell