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This Thanksgiving, we’ll be doing … the same thing

for The Brooklyn Paper

My family’s Thanksgiving routine is set in stone, as my mother-in-law owns the holiday with no plans of ever letting go. I don’t begrudge her the time it takes us to schlep up to Massachusetts, because each year I see her immense joy in having her home filled with grandchildren and delightful chaos.

The four days we are there have evolved, however, into a rigid set of events and traditions, some of which may have outlasted their meaning. We always go to a movie and hit the mall for a little shopping, a real treat and cultural education for my urban teenagers. There’s at least one dinner of Chinese food, grandpa’s favorite, much baking, and all the cousins piled together on the floor of one room, like puppies, for a three-day sleepover.

On Thanksgiving Day, there is always a show, written, produced, directed, and staged by the four grandchildren. This started many years ago when they were all small, adorable and under the age of 10. Now they are adolescents but the grown-ups still call out for the same song and dance routines. I wonder if we see the children they were and not the young women they have become as they perform handstands and kick lines.

Traditions are important, providing structure and touchstones of consistency in a family’s ever-changing life. Even as my daughters leave home and begin to miss events, I think it reassures them to know where I’ll be for New Year’s Eve or that the annual seder will take place on Passover, and I’m glad for these reminders that my life goes on with or without the presence of my children.

Sometimes, though, traditions have ceased to be relevant. Some die a peaceful death — we used to go to Coney Island every year the week after school ended until the kids couldn’t face the same rides or one more bite of fried dough, so we found something else to do. Some traditions, though, become zombies, stumbling along, year after year, because I don’t have the sense to shoot their heads off. School shopping comes to mind, as I tried to keep forcing my girls on excursions with me when, really, they had no desire to be seen in a clothing store with their father anywhere nearby. I resisted this realization because I enjoyed the tradition, dragging it out years too long.

I certainly notice my children changing every year, but not always that this means our family is changing too. Knowing the rules that were right for toddlers would be disastrous for teens, I should also know that customs need to shift and change as my girls grow up.

What makes our Thanksgiving tradition wonderful is being together as an extended family, not any specific ritual, no matter how many years it has been done, nor how nostalgic it makes me feel. Keeping focused on the meaning of our holiday trip will help me kill the zombies as we find new ways to spend these cherished days.

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Ed from Bay Ridge says:
Nice column; thank you.
Nov. 30, 2013, 3:37 pm
Ed from Bay Ridge says:
I was perhaps too brief and flippant, so let me add:

I appreciated your thoughtfulness and forethoughtfulness, and your reminder that tradition w/o distinction-making and heart = dust and ashes.
Dec. 1, 2013, 4:07 pm

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