Having Traditions vs. Being Traditional

Ah, Thanksgiving.  Family.  Food.  Football.  Five day weekend.  It’s almost upon us.  Actually, if I’m being honest, I’ll admit that it was never my favorite holiday as a kid.  No offense to those that love it.  It just never was my own personal favorite.  What does it have that regular days don’t?  Let’s go through the list, shall we?


As a kid, it can be tough to get excited about seeing great-great aunts whose names you don’t know and who pinch your cheeks too hard.  Although I do remember a couple of guys, they were maybe 3rd cousins or something, who’d show up at my grandmother’s.  They enjoyed pranking one another with little novelty shop charges they’d put in the ends of one another’s cigarettes that made them explode when they lit up.  They also swore a lot and taught all the kids how to play poker.  So, yeah, that was cool.

Now that I’m a grown up and a stay-at-home dad I’ve got family  up to my eyeballs.  Don’t get me wrong – I love them and I really don’t get to see extended family enough.  I’m just saying, on the whole, there’s no shortage of family togetherness opportunities.  I can’t go three steps without bumping into something family-related.  It’s like an infestation, really.


Short, shameful confession: I have never had any particular fondness for turkey or any of the other traditional fare.  And if I did do you know what I’d do?  I’d go out and buy some turkey meat and cook it whenever I wanted.  Being a grown up is cool that way.


As a kid, I hated football.  Football just meant that the TV wasn’t on something more interesting.  The only thing worse than football was the Macy’s day parade.  Parades viewed on a 15″ TV with a bad signal are just a tease.

As an adult, I’ve grown to enjoy football – I’m a fan of the Patriots, who are so good that it’s like playing “football fan” on the easy level.  But, come on, they’re going to play at least 16 games a season regardless of what I do on Thanksgiving.

Five day weekend?

See the part about being a stay-at-home dad above.  Thanksgiving is either a continuation of my eternal day off work or a work marathon, depending on how you view the primary caregiver’s role.  Of course, I always enjoyed getting out of school for Thanksgiving as a kid.  And it’s definitely awesome that Wendy has the day off, but a couple days off work by itself isn’t enough to break into the majors when it comes to cool holidays.  Veteran’s day, Labor day, MKL Jr. day, Memorial day.  Just like Thanksgiving, they all celebrate really important things by getting people out of work, but no one tries to lump them in with Christmas as one of the heros of the holiday world.

So, being a hopelessly, unimaginatively practical  person, I didn’t enter parenthood with any intention of making Thanksgiving a priority.  My thinking was that, since I didn’t have any particular affection for the holiday’s traditions, I’d just go along with the minimum of whatever I needed to do to make sure the kids stayed American and let the rest slide.  Usually, either Wendy’s parents or mine would come up for a visit, we’d cook a turkey and enjoy the company.  Which is fine, except that, for us, the fun part of it was the visit and the rest, the holiday parts like cooking and having everything be closed, just got in the way.  The holiday trappings just seemed tacked on to add work and stress to an otherwise pleasant visit.

Last Thanksgiving (2012) was different.  We didn’t have company from out of town.  It was just the 4 of us.  The kids don’t like Thanksgiving food any more than I do.  I’m short-sighted.  I thought, “everybody says traditions are all important, but they seem like more of a pain than they’re worth.”  I figured we could just treat it like any other long weekend.  Wendy disagreed, but saw my point.

So, Wendy, who’s always good for this kind of thing, did some research and hatched a plan.  We went to Plimouth Plantation for Thanksgiving and it was awesome.  The kids had a great time, we learned about the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people.  We got to tour the Mayflower II.  We had plenty of opportunities to talk about gratitude and history.  No one had to spend all day cooking.  We all got to enjoy being together and we decided that we’d make it a Thanksgiving tradition that we could all look forward to.

This year, my sister and brother-in-law are coming for a visit, but instead of following the official traditions out of a sense of obligation, we’re keeping our new tradition because we’re excited about it.

All of that to say that being traditional isn’t what’s important when it’s holiday time, but having traditions is.  If you like turkey, if you enjoy cooking together, or watching football together, then, by all means, continue to enjoy it!  If you don’t, then don’t despair and give up on the idea of family traditions altogether.  You can start your own.  They can be as similar or as different from what others are doing as you want.  Not everyone lives within driving range of Plymouth Rock, but, wherever you live, you can find something that will appeal to your family.  Something you can all look forward to doing together every year.  Something that’ll tie the years together and bring continuity and comfort to your particular family.

Bonus: It turns out Americans get to retain citizenship regardless of how they spend Thanksgiving!

4 thoughts on “Having Traditions vs. Being Traditional

  1. Ben, I loved this line for its simple truth, “The holiday trappings just seemed tacked on to add work and stress” and having worked and cooked for a big family for 30 years the the full-on traditional way, I can second that opinion. Its funny though, now the all that work and stress has blurred to create warm and fuzzy memories of great family times together. You are right, making your own traditions is the best part of all. Enjoy your Thanksgiving wherever and however you find fulfilling.

Comments are closed.