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Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. Maybe that’s because my birthday was always celebrated on Thanksgiving, no matter what day it fell on. As I got older, I loved it for the tradition—the whole family being together, the same food year after year. It has never gotten old for me.
After Michael and I married, we decided to create a tradition of our own. We would invite our kids and some friends with their children to our apartment for pizza and a movie the night before the holiday. When we had an overflow crowd we would open up the convertible sofa and sleeping bags and wait in the bedroom for the excited voices to die down before dropping off to sleep ourselves.
Early the next morning, Michael and the kids would go off to see the Macy’s Parade from his office on Broadway. His company had a tradition of its own—opening up the building for employees, serving hot chocolate and donuts from the company cafeteria, and allowing all the guests access to the windows on the lower floors, which offered a terrific view of the floats and balloons as they made their way downtown to Herald Square.
I stayed home and started cooking.
The first year I sautéed the onions on Thanksgiving morning and everyone left with eyes streaming, so I learned to prepare some things in advance.
Even after our children left for college, Michael didn’t miss a parade. Sadly, when it came time to introduce our grandchildren to the parade, times had changed. The company decided the building was no longer to be opened on Thanksgiving morning. Definitely a “Bah, humbug!” decision, but that didn’t stop my husband. He has a letter inviting him and his family for brunch on West 77th Street—and that gives him access to the ramp outside the New-York Historical Society on Central Park West, where he and the grandkids have a perfect spot to view the parade. (One way or another, indoors or out, rain or shine, he hasn’t missed a parade in nearly half a century.)
By the time they return home, the rest of our family has gathered and the feast can begin. Partly for reasons of tradition and partly to satisfy specific culinary preferences, the basic meal has to be the same every year. If I want to try something new it has to be an addition, not a replacement.
One of our grandsons has written essays about returning from the parade and smelling the turkey as soon as the elevator doors open on our floor. My son-in-law loves jellied cranberries; it’s not the same if it doesn’t come out of a can. Years ago, Michael asked for onions in cream sauce, but he was the only one eating them, so they are no longer on the menu.
Conversely, he doesn’t like orange food (strange but true), so sweet potatoes were out until I found a recipe with praline topping that everyone likes but him. However, there must be mashed potatoes on the table as well. And so it goes. Personal preferences now dominate our feast, which is why there is always too much dessert. One wants pumpkin pie, another cherry, I like pecan pie, and our daughter craves coconut custard. And, of course, there has to be a chocolate finish to the meal. Last year it was homemade butter crunch. A dentist’s dream come true.
When I asked my grandchildren recently what was the best part of Thanksgiving, two voted for waking up early and the excitement of the parade. Two voted for coming home and smelling everything cooking. They all think my stuffing and mashed potatoes are the best. My grandson Ben, on the other hand, likes the smell of turkey but prefers to eat brisket. Go figure.
Our holiday table is decorated with place cards the grandchildren have made, as well as the pilgrim candles that graced Michael’s childhood table. Finally, there’s a turkey cutout that hangs from the light fixture over the dining room table, made by Ben when he was in kindergarten or first grade.
We acquired the wine glasses over a few summers in Connecticut. They are all singles; none match. We bought the china on a trip to Italy; the silver and serving pieces belonged to Michael’s mother; the table itself was her mother’s. All this is now part of our collective memory.
There are some years we are more thankful than others, but we are always thankful to be together, and this year more so. Our granddaughters, just starting their freshman year, will be home from college. I can’t wait to see them and hear their stories. And all the laughter.
Thanksgiving is still my favorite holiday.