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Embracing the meaning of Thanksgiving through family traditions

It wasn't until I married into my husband's family that I put any thought into Thanksgiving traditions. The only Thanksgiving celebration I was familiar with was my own family's. I am not sure why, but I assumed everyone sat and watched football, waited until their mother and grandmother prepared the turkey and sides and made the delicious gravy from the giblets and turkey drippings, and expressed what they were thankful for at the table before digging in.

When my first Thanksgiving with my new extended family arrived, I was surprised to be invited to spend the night at his family's house the evening before the holiday. What was even more interesting was that my husband was not invited, just me and the other females in the family. After some inquiring, I found out that every year all of the women in the family get together the evening before Thanksgiving, have dinner and start preparing the food for the next day.

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Each of us would have a job to do. My sister-in-law, Gretchen, would peel the potatoes, Aunt Mary and Aunt Fran would cut up the celery and onions, my mother–in-law, Fran, would tear apart the bread for stuffing, and my husband's cousin, Rose, would start preparing the turkey. I found out that my job, as the newest member of the family, was to chop the onions.

This tradition has continued every year. After everything is set to cook the next day, we all get into our pajamas and watch a movie. The next morning we are up bright and early to start cooking. The rest of the family joins us later, and the men have cleanup duty. This wonderful tradition is a great way for the women to bond, and something that can be passed on from generation to generation.

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After expanding my perspective of this family holiday, I thought it would be a good idea to find some other Thanksgiving traditions that I could share with both sides of my family. One tradition I read about was a Thanksgiving gratitude jar. How it works is on the day of the holiday, a jar is placed in a central location with some strips of paper and pencils next to it. As guests arrive, they jot down on each strip something they are grateful for and place it in the jar. After dinner, the jar is passed around and each guest reads one of the strips, reminding the family of all they are blessed with.

Another idea a co-worker shared with me was her family's tradition of volunteering the morning of Thanksgiving at a local food kitchen and serving dinner to the less fortunate. They take time after the meal to visit with the families and share stories. After they have finished their shift, they go home and have their own dinner. She explained to me that this act of service has made all of the members of her family more grateful for the meal they get to eat and the time they are able to spend together.

Years ago, a family friend of ours was starting out on his own and realized he didn't have a single Christmas ornament for his tree. That is when he started the Thanksgiving tradition of making ornaments after dinner. In the basement, he sets up a bunch of chairs and tables and craft supplies and has everyone in the family make an ornament. Ten years after starting this tradition, his tree is covered with dozens of handmade ornaments, each one reminding him of the family member who created it and the special holiday they shared.

Like my family, I am sure many families enjoy watching football games on Thanksgiving. A childhood friend's family takes football to the next level. Every year her large family divides into two teams and has their own family football game. Each year the game gets a little more serious. Last year, she told me that the teams got together ahead of time and created jerseys for the game. She said this tradition is something that brings back many fond memories of the holiday, and also serves to give family members something to look forward to every year. She explained that she remembers being a kid and sitting on the sidelines cheering her parents on and now, as a parent, how special it is watching her children rooting her and her husband on.

No matter what traditions I may enjoy during the holidays, I hope to remember the true meaning of family and how blessed I am. I also hope to pass on these traditions and share this gratefulness with my own family.

Kelly Scible is a Reisterstown resident and can be reached at kellyscible@gmail.com.

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