Thanksgiving Traditions

Cynthia L. Eppley 11/24/2020

If you are ever on the roads at Thanksgiving, you will know that this is the most traveled holiday of the year.
People seem to be yearning to return to Mom and Dad’s, or go over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house. (Do they sing that song anymore? Do kids even know what it means?)


Will there even be Thanksgiving?
There is talk of restrictions, curfews and limiting invitations to your own immediate family.
A general malaise surrounds the holiday as we think of Thanksgiving past—and Thanksgiving present.

Traditions Past

What are some of the traditions and memories that have made Thanksgiving so special? Every family is different, with favorite foods.
My mother was an excellent cook, and because she wanted to have something for everyone, would never consider eliminating one dish.


Coming from the South, my mother made mashed potatoes and turnips.
I hated them. But because my brothers liked them, they were mandatory. (No bitterness here…) They almost looked like regular mashed potatoes and you had to be careful to distinguish the two; a mouthful of that nasty stuff was a rude surprise.
I hate them to this day.
Regular mashed potatoes? Bring them on. Heaping mountains of white fluffy potatoes, with a river of butter. My niece Megan, loved them too, so she sat on one side of me and we would jostle for portions.
And candied sweet potatoes? The stuff of heaven. Sweet, crunchy goodness. My other niece, Melanie would sit on the other side of me, and we’d divide them.


Going into the oven early in the day, the bird roasted slowly and released enticing aromas to tantalize our tastebuds. Stuffing and gravy followed. Rounding it out were peas, coleslaw, a vegetable tray, creamed onions, rolls and I hope I haven’t forgotten any!
Others have told me their table included: ham, creamed corn pudding, creamed rice, turkey stuffing balls, Gelatin salad, Sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, macaroni and cheese, lasagna, spanakopita, and lobster.

Cranberry Sauce

There has been a running question on Social Media concerning the critical question: Canned or Homemade Whole cranberry sauce. It is a hotly debated topic. Even this is a family tradition.


Finally, the Pie! Pumpkin, Apple and sometimes Pecan pie. Whipped cream or ice cream? And we begged Mom to not include Mincemeat pie. Others included coconut cake or lemon butter.

Lemon butter should have its own category. It is a whipped confection of tart lemons, sugar and butter, cooked to perfection. This dish has been in the family of my Sister in law, Sylvia, handed down from her Great Grandmother. This year, Sylvia was unable to make it as she had surgery. But Haley was freshly home from college, and came over to help. If I’m counting correctly, this recipe would be from Haley’s Great (x3) Grandmother. The fact that the recipe is marred with drops of lemons makes it more precious. As they busied themselves in the kitchen, you can almost hear the generations that have gone before, watching as “a great cloud of witnesses.” (Hebrews 12: 1-3.)


Both my Mother and my brother had birthdays around Thanksgiving. Often, my brother’s birthday fell on Thanksgiving Day, as it did this year. My mother, ever mindful of our favorite dishes, traditionally made a German Sweet Chocolate Cake. And it was a glory of butter, coconut, pecans, and of course, German Sweet Chocolate; layered together with the icing between three layers of tender cake. And a key ingredient was buttermilk. (See Cornbread and Buttermilk). But this year would be different. It is 2020 and my niece, Melanie was to bring the cake for her Dad. She was unable to come to Thanksgiving dinner. But this would not deter her from her mission. She drove 2 hours to delivery the cake, and then go home. The tradition we all loved was carried on again, to the 3rd generation.

Formal Tables

My mother always set a formal table. The table cloth had been pressed without one wrinkle. Gleaming crystal and silver stood sentry next to each piece of antique family china. A floral arrangement graced the center of the table, and candles were lit.
It was my job the night before to set the table and clean the silver; a familiar ritual of love.
My brother and his wife continue this tradition to this day and set a lovely table with the same antique china we used growing up. Again, you can almost hear the generations that have gone before, watching as “a great cloud of witnesses.”
Rockwell created a famous painting of Thanksgiving dinner entitled: “Freedom from Want.” It is well known and seems to capture Thanksgiving Past. I can’t help but notice the smiling faces as we catch this “snapshot” into their dinner.

A Family Thanksgiving?

This year, what will be the “snapshot” of our dinner?
Will it be formal? Or will it be more casual as we huddle outside around a fire pit? Will it be formal with china and silver? Or more relaxed with paper plates and plastic knives and forks?
It doesn’t really matter what we serve for dinner does it?
Whether turkey or ham, or any of the plethora of vegetable options.
Tradition is defined as the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation. The memories and joy of being together can still be forged even today, in 2020.
Traditions, old and new, form the glue that binds us together and is handed down through the generations, much like fine china and silver.

“Bind us together Lord, bind us together with cords that cannot be broken.”

It is the legacy of generations past, and generations future.
It is the fellowship around the Holiday table that merge and mold us together, family and friends.
It is the stuff of creating memories, tradition, and home.
For this Thanksgiving, let us embrace tradition, pass on what is necessary and good, and be flexible when needed.
And in all things, let us Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow.

Published by Counseling from a Christian View

Counselor, Teacher, Wife, Mother and Grandmother. It is a privilege to serve God. All my roles have taught me more about God's grace and mercy. And all of life is counseling.

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