Today, on American Thanksgiving, I find myself pondering the idea of tradition.
All week, various women bloggers have been recounting their menus, their schedules, their customs, and I am left to reflect on my own Thanksgiving last month, when we…
With friends, but still. Pizza.
The night prior we had invited my brother-in-law and his family over for a delicious ham dinner that was big on the crazy but lacking in the thankful. Whenever my brother-in-law brings his 3 boys to our house all hell breaks loose. The level of noise, chaos and destruction rises to a point where I just want to crawl under my bed and hide until they have gone away home and the pieces of whatever has been broken (invariably there is something) have been glued back together.
Growing up, I remember always having a table full of people for Thanksgiving. It would never be the same group: sometimes my grandparents would be visiting from Vancouver or, more rarely, my cousins from their town 4 hours away. We would always have at least one ‘stray’ – a young biologist in town and away from his family, a single nurse who worked with my mom. My parents had a way of finding the people who needed to be found, and of inviting them to join us for a meal that was, at its very essence, about sharing your bounty with others.
Still, other than the strays and the once-a-year brussel sprouts, we didn’t really have any formal Thanksgiving traditions, and I think I believed vaguely that I would create some when one day I would be the head of my own household.
Alas, I didn’t marry into any Thanksgiving rituals. For whatever reason, Thanksgiving is not a particularly celebrated or important occasion in Quebec. We try to invite family or friends, but they don’t recognize the significance of the day, so even if they come, it is just another meal to them. I wouldn’t dare ask everyone to hold hands around the table and tell us what they are grateful for; I wouldn’t presume to play party games.
But if Thanksgiving is not an important holiday in my adopted culture, then certainly Christmas is. In the land of Catholicism and the large family, surely Christmas is a time ripe with tradition and ceremony.
I remember my first Christmas here, just after Gee and I got engaged. We drove to his uncle’s home, 3 hours away, and were met by a stereotypical French-Canadian celebration: Grandfather paying harmonica, the women dancing, everybody singing. REAL tourtiere (not that hamburger pie that gets passed off as tourtiere in the grocery store). Lots of beer and wine and music, lots of cousins and coats piled high on the bed. It was very probably the best Christmas I have ever had, without so much as a present or a Santa Claus or a stocking. My little girl-me was grinning on the inside, stupefied by her good luck to be on the verge of marrying into this family, into this glorious tradition of goodwill, to be shared year after year.
Ahh, but life is complicated, isn’t it. Skeletons we never knew when we were children have begun to clamour at the closet door. The grandparents are aging and travel less; the aunts and uncles have their own celebrations to attend, in-laws to placate. We have kids of our own, their schedules and needs to consider. Gee’s job requires him to work a lot over the holidays. Basically, real life has dragged us away from that first, remarkable celebration.
Maybe next year I will plan the Thanksgiving dinner of my desire: we will invite the whole family; we will spend the afternoon walking in the park, and then return home to the aroma of roasting turkey. This little Anglophone girl from the West Coast will show these French-Canadians how to do Thanksgiving, dammit. The WILL come. They WILL feast. They WILL be won over.
Yes, I am tempted to create my own traditions, but maybe that’s not the answer. Maybe I just need to recognize the ones we already have, even if they aren’t grand. Like the tradition of hanging up a plastic banner from the dollar store to mark every family birthday. Although the banner is tattered and faded, the children expect it, and love it, because it is our tradition.
Or the tradition of drinking eggnog while we hang the Christmas ornaments on the tree, of Gee filming the whole thing on video, and of me re-arranging the ornaments to fill in the blank spots, or to hang a favourite trinket in a prominent place.
Or the tradition of building a giant fort in the snow bank that takes up the entirety of our tiny postage stamp yard in front of the house. A fort complete with tunnels and drink-holders and staircases and secret shelves on which to hide snowballs.
It’s hardly the stuff of Hollywood movies, but these are traditions nonetheless, and I hope they will become treasured memories for my children. Maybe when they have babies of their own, they will find themselves hanging a banner, or buying a carton of eggnog, and they won’t be entirely sure why they are doing it, except that something in their bloodstream tells them its right.
In the meantime though, I think I’ll start planning that Thanksgiving dinner.