I always look forward to Thanksgiving. And not just because of the food, the family, the friends, and the Black Friday sales. I love it because it is so positively predictable.
Every year, over the fourth Thursday in November, we become a country of laboratory mice running on our proverbial wheels. We sequester ourselves with generations of relatives in our childhood homes with sketchy cable and iffy Wi-Fi, and amuse ourselves with old board games, Cornhole, and even charades. We go to malls and outlets and online to buy things we do not need and will never use because they happen to be on sale; and because one can only play Cornhole for so long. We declare pumpkin a national spice and insist on putting it in foods and drinks that have no business being called pumpkin anything. We watch football for hours upon end and scream at our television sets like couch-bound lunatics. And, we ingest more calories in a few days than most third world countries consume in a year and pray those Spanx leggings we like will be on sale come Cyber Monday.
If this sounds all too familiar, then you must be one of the many Americans who not only cherish this holiday, but also love the idea of tradition. Or, you are one of my parents reading this out loud to one of your friends for the umpteenth time while saying, “Isn't she hilarious?” Thanks, Dad.
Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” I guess Einstein would consider my family the epitome of normality, because we do the same thing over and over again every November hoping nothing changes. Our family Thanksgiving is like that movie, Groundhog Day. Except, while our spouses attempt to wake up from this repetitive nightmare by regularly asking if we can do something different or suggesting we consider a tropical destination for Thanksgiving, my siblings and I dream of recreating this annual Alabama tradition for the rest of our lives. As if The Bahamas has anything on Birmingham.
This past November, my husband and I celebrated a milestone anniversary. It wasn’t our wedding anniversary, but rather the twentieth anniversary of spending Thanksgiving together with my family. Over the past two decades he got to know three of my four grandparents, hundreds of relatives, dozens of friends, and some of the best barbeque restaurants in the Southeast. He can attest that while certain elements of our celebration have inevitably changed, the general framework has been remarkably consistent. In fact, every year we bet how many times a day my father will go to the grocery for milk and eggs, how many chocolate chip banana breads my mother will bake, how many times the grandkids will tattle on each other, and how often my sister will promote it all on social media. It has become a predictable pattern of people, places, and posting.
Some might find the repetition boring, but I find it quite comforting. In a world where change seems to be the only constant, these simple rituals and traditions offer much-needed structure and stability. Admittedly, sometimes I take this idea a little far and often turn a common custom into a steadfast superstition. Or as my husband would say, a “stupid-stition.” For instance, every time I go through a yellow light I instinctively kiss my hand, touch the roof of my car, and hit the dashboard as many times as there are people in the car. When I do this, my husband thinks I’m nuts, but I think about my friend, Rebecca Tax, who passed this ritual on to me when we were 19 years old. It’s our continued connection with each other and proof that what some see as silly, others view as sacred.
So this year, at our usual post-Thanksgiving family lunch at California Pizza Kitchen (yes, we really are that regimented), instead of asking our children what they are thankful for, I asked what traditions they cherish most. Their list ranged from family vacations and summer camp, to Nini’s banana bread and spending time on the lake. We all agreed, however, that the week of Thanksgiving was by far our favorite, fun-filled, family-oriented tradition of all.
At least, that’s what it says on my sister’s Facebook page.