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  • Alicia McCaslin

thanksgiving traditions: the end of an era

Traditions are grounding experiences but inevitably they evolve with family dynamics. When I was a child, the tradition that stands out was watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade with the giant balloons of cartoon icons while my mom and dad prepared our turkey dinner. In college, my high school friends would gather to meet at The Fish Market the Wednesday night prior and reconnect over schooners of beer. Then when I was married, I realized the need to incorporate your spouse’s traditions into yours.

This will be our first Thanksgiving without my husband’s father who passed last December at the age of 96. We moved in with him nearly 8 years ago to assist in maintaining a quality of life in the home he cherished. We’ve been able to raise our children in the same house where my husband grew up watching them reach similar milestones and breaking similar windows! As much as I would like to say we are going to gather around the table one more time on this family holiday to toast Mark’s parents and their legacy, we have been packing up 50 years of a families memories and it’s starting to feel a bit hollow. Sadly, we have already had our last Thanksgiving dinner in this house.

In the ’60s when Mark’s parents, Bob and Wanda, were raising their children here in Old Town, time was an entirely different commodity. Entertaining was a way to genuinely connect and tables were set with great detail. Connecting these days is in the form of emojis and we’re lucky to get the everyone around the dinner table two or three times a week. Attention to detail…well let’s just say we’re doing well when there are actual napkins (not paper towels) under the forks. We are living in an era where we spend a lot of time taking our kids to their various activities and gathering for a family meal has become logistically impossible ~ much less, setting a proper table. As I assess the McCaslin family heirlooms, I utilize my favorite wardrobe question to determine what to keep, what to sell, and what to donate. Will I honor what I keep or am I prolonging a future decision?

I struggle in an attempt to simplify and to adjust to our modern lifestyles. And although I still strongly believe that less is more, I’ve concluded that I should pack up some choice pieces of Wanda’s beautiful tableware (such as the deviled egg plates and relish trays), and create those moments again with my own family in our next home. I will take what’s old and make it new again while maintaining our tradition of honoring family. Perhaps I will discover we took too much but hopefully I will focus on utilizing my selections and carving out time to put those pieces together beautifully, just as Wanda and my own mother have when bringing the family together to give thanks.


Thanksgiving at my home, as a child, was chaotic at best, only because there were never any traditional "tables" or "places" we held the Thanksgiving meal.  We ate where we lived, which for me was a change every single year, in a new country or state with a different dining room and climate, not to mention home and friends.  Of course, this means I was a military brat, and I cherish those times of learning that life has one thing that is constant and doesn't change, and that is, CHANGE itself!

We invited people to our family table, often because they were, like us, "alone" for Thanksgiving.  We never had the same people sitting around the table, and like the new commercial this year (cannot remember what it's advertising but it shows a full family table, complete with St. Pat's Day mugs and homemade plates from school projects around the turkey day table--cute!), we often had to dig out the unmatched plates and place settings, just to have enough to go around.  But, unlike some families' perfect Thanksgiving meals that are or were always with the same folks (which, by the way, is very special), we never had that luxury, and I think I'm the better off for it.  

In the meantime, my work took me overseas, where I met my husband, and his job had us living all over the globe until recently. So, what do we do on Thanksgiving most years?  In Japan, we hosted a drop by dinner from 4-8 p.m., and my husband cooked this lovely turkey in our tiny Japanese oven (19 lbs, but it barely fit!) and then we had the menu translated and had the neighbors and landlords, most of whom didn't and don't speak English at all, come by for our traditional dishes.  It was awesome!  In Germany, we hosted our landlord's family and several single military members who would've been without their family or any invite on that special holiday.  And, we always, with anyone who can speak English, go around the table and tell something we're thankful for.

So, Thanksgiving for me is not about the perfect table, and I'm by no means a great cook.  But, it's about reaching arms far and wide to include those who might be lonely, a shut-in or vet, a military member far from home, and exchange student who doesn't know anything about this tradition...and then, allowing them to eat and share and laugh around the table.  THAT is what makes being thankful really special, and I believe it encapsulates part of the original tradition of Thanksgiving, which, depending on the version you prefer, meant our forefathers and mothers would have starved if not for the graciousness of their American Indian native US settlers!  

Happy Thanksgiving, one and all!

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