Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thanksgiving Traditions

Every family has their own traditions, things they do each and every year.  I'm not always sure why some "traditions" continue while others do not because, you know, not every tradition is a good one.  Like for some reason, every year, I manage to get my panties in a twist over something my husband does.  Not one of those traditions you really NEED to carry on from year to year, but, alas, it has become "tradition".  Luckily, I'm wearing bigger panties so it's not quite so painful.

But this is going to be all about good traditions, or maybe memorable ones.

Thanksgiving in our house...well, is never at our house.  My husband's uncle, Fr Dick, hosts Thanksgiving at whatever parish he happens to be assigned.  In my 18 years of marriage, I have been to Elizabeth (probably the furthest away...think...North Dakota-ish), Isanti (the smallest house, BUT, the place I learned all I ever wanted to know about the making of lutefisk and I STILL can't get the smell out of my clothes, 13 years later), Osakis (large rectory house AND a convent with plenty of actual beds...and when hosting upwards of 50 people, this is a plus), and finally Spring Hill (where he has retired at a huge rectory).

"Traditionally", Thanksgiving begins when we receive the invitation that has a "schedule of events".  Yes, this is important.  For planning purposes.  And NO Thanksgiving isn't actually ONE day, it's a string of days that almost have the feel of a never ending frat party (NOT that I have ever attended one of those...ahem).

Thanksgiving (beyond the preparations I need to make for food I am required to bring) begins for us on Wednesday, usually around noon, when I start to load the truck.  "Traditionally", my kids' elementary school has 3rd grade parent visitation day on this Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving.  For each of my 4 children (2 of which had the same 3rd grade teacher) we have warned the teacher that we would be pulling them from school early so PLEASE, do NOT give them a integral part of the 3rd grade parent visitation program.  Now some, NOT me of course, would call the pulling of the children early from school thus missing the presentation a win-win situation.  We do this because Father's parishes have ALWAYS been north of the city and we have to contend with "make a move Thanksgiving traffic" that begins earlier and earlier each year.

If all goes well, we usually arrive at Fr Dicks somewhere around 5-6 pm.  Father usually has a big pot of chili going.  This is tradition.  He tries to vary it up every now and then.  Like the year he made his chili from beef tongue.  We didn't want him making chili anymore after that.  One year he had a chili competition where people were to bring their best chili's (already made) and let the townspeople decide the winner.  I took myself out of the competition as I couldn't decide which of my recipes to make (and really it didn't matter, no one had a chance if I entered).  

After sating our appetite, the adults walk down to  one of the two bars in town.   The joy of being in Spring Hill (being able to walk).  In other towns, we've driven to...the legion, the VFW, etc. to meet up with the locals who know Father hosts his family and enjoy meeting us all...again.  Or for the first time (God help them).  If there is a pool table, then it's game on.

It's back to the rectory where "traditionally" there is a poker tournament.  Several tables are set up the cards are dealt and it is now, every man for himself!  Husbands and wives?  Fuggetabout!  It's cut throat.  Because, you know, there is a cash prize for the winner.

Hopefully the poker tournament is over by midnight because that is the time for the Venison Fry.  Those hunters who are lucky enough to bag a deer are required to save the tenderloins for the "traditional" midnight venison fry.  Even if you happened to be sleeping, once the venison, onions and peppers hit the pan, your nose will lead you back to the kitchen for a taste.

Clean up is quick as by now most are exhausted...AND it is JUST BARELY THANKSGIVING!

The next morning everyone is up for "traditional" Thanksgiving mass over which Father presides.  The challenge, at Spring Hill, is now how to get 30 adults through the single shower.  Yes, even though the rectory has 7 bedrooms, it is a true rectory house in the sense that it has only one shower (there is a half bath downstairs).  Most of us actually sleep in the church basement on the floor, where there are school type bathrooms...with stools and a sink only.  No shower.  That's what deodorant is for, right?

The clan usually takes up the front 5-6 right hand rows of the church.  Luckily it's a big church so the town people DO have someplace to sit.  And as is tradition, Father gives a heart rending sermon.  Occasionally (not traditionally) he'll sing his sermon.  THIS is a treat.  When he does, I have to remember to bring tissues.

Luckily, we only have to move to the basement for the "traditional" Thanksgiving breakfast.  Items included in the breakfast:  vanilla pull apart bread, cinnamon rolls, fresh fruit, and smoked sausage (from every butcher shop from Rochester to Bemidji).  Occasionally there will also be egg dishes, but we have in the past also done just a large pan of scrambled eggs.  Oh, and "traditionally"...there are bloody mary's.  I make a MEAN bloody mary!

So, after breakfast and clean up, a plethora of games begin...for young and old.  First giant cardboard football games are squared off so that the betting can begin.  You pick squares until all are filled in, pay $x per square.  Numbers are drawn for both horizontal and vertical edges.  If your set of numbers match the score of the football game at the end of each quarter, you win.  Usually half and final scores are the bigger winners.  Both games get their own boards.
The funny part, there is usually so much going on, it's rare that the games actually get watched!

"Traditionally" there is a cribbage tournament.  I am a novice so I have never participated.  I need to up my game because as with poker, CASH PRIZES!  WHOOT!

The entire clan is involved with card bingo.  I think Father has to use upwards of 5-6 decks of cards to produce 50+ hand of 5 different cards, with enough left over for him to draw numbers.  As he draws a card, and you hold that card, you get to pull that card.  First one with zero cards to yell Bingo wins. prizes.  This is fun because the kids can and DO win.  Everyone switches hands between games.  Usually around 10 games are played.

By mid afternoon there is the "TRADITIONAL" (note upper case...this is the one that is not only traditional but COMPETITIVE...) Father does the annual hiding of the Jack-Ass, a 2 in tall jackass that he hides somewhere on his property outside then gives clues as to where it is hidden.  Obscure clues, because you can't have a quick winner.  Even if it's cold.  And snowing.  I've seen adults knock over kiddies like you would imagine a black Friday shopper after a $50  42" HDTV would, thinking they knew where the jack ass was and woe be it unto you if you were in their way.  Yes...THAT kind of competitive.  And as you would expect, that one is usually the BIG CASH WIN of the day.

Somewhere in there turkeys (yes multiple) are put in electric roasters, 50 lb bags of potatoes are peeled (note...we learned long ago...we MUST bring our own potato peeler unless we wanted to be there until Christmas peeling potatoes, so you might consider it "tradition"), wild rice dressing is put on, premade dressing goes in the crock pots.  Most of the other side dishes are already made and need to be heated, so the use of the church basement ovens (yes plural) is necessary.

"Traditionally" we USED to pull out appetizers, shortly after breakfast.  And a different appetizer rolled out almost hourly.  While this was lovely, we found come 630(ish) no one was hungry.  So we finally did the smart thing and put the kabash on appetizers.

Father does "traditionally" put together children's games too.  Sack races, apple races...the kids are not left to fend for themselves (well, yes they are, but not with regard to game participation).  If the weather cooperates, there is also a game of touch football.  This really is a sight worth seeing.  Never broken bones, but the occasional bruise is not unheard of.

The goal is to have dinner ready around 630.  "Traditionally", this does not happen.  But last year we got close.  When Father moved to Spring Hill, we began a new tradition of taking a picture, from atop a counter, of all the adults.  This is a tradition I really like.

After the picture, food is set out.  Prayers are said.  These vary from the children having their say, to EVERYONE having their say, to the "tradition" of Father giving the blessing and truly showing us what we have to be thankful for.

Then it begins:  turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing/dressing, wild rice dressing, warm bacon coleslaw, green bean casserole, sweet potato souffle (or a sweet potato dish of some kind), cranberry relish, occasionally corn pudding.  Fairly standard Thanksgiving fare.

IF you have room...out come the desserts.  Pumpkin and sweet potato pie.  Always.  Tradition.  Additionally, pecan and or chocolate pecan (or specifically Madiera chocolate pecan pie...ahem).  Maybe an apple (because MIL only really like apple pies).  This year, I'm bringing a Chai Pumpkin cheesecake.  Because, yeah, sometimes I like to thumb my nose at tradition (and my oldest daughter asked if I would...who am I to tell her nay?)

My favorite part?  "Traditionally" the boys do the dishes!  WHOOT!

Thanksgiving becomes pretty anti-climactic after dinner.  One "traditionally" finds a place to sprawl and digest.

On Friday, Father usually plans some sort of activity.  In Osakis, he would rent out the WHOLE bowling ally...all 6 lanes.  This was always fun.  But at most locations, Father enlists one of his farmer parishioners to hook up a hay wagon and provide his family with a hay ride.  Many coolers and flasks are "traditionally" involved.  And blankets.  Years before I entered the family, a farmer had used horses to draw the wagon and something went awry, ending with bodies being strewn every where, and if I recall the story correctly, an emergency room visit was involved.  So the hay ride has evolved into a tractor pulled hay ride.  And it works out fine.

Most of us leave late Friday afternoon.  I think Father is thankful to see the lot of us (and we are a LARGE LOT) go home.

But one of my favorite traditions at Thanksgiving, is the chat I have with my pillow the night we return. It's not usually long, but it includes lots of kisses and expression of love and how much it was missed.

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