Creating Your Own Traditions: The Un-Thanksgiving

White pumpkin with flowers

Last year’s center piece: Home grown pumpkin, store-bought flowers.

Thanksgiving in the US is the fourth Thursday of November. In the well-known Norman Rockwell painting,an idyllic family gathers around the table anticipating a hearty meal of Turkey and all the trimmings.  As a child, I wanted to crawl into that painting.  It seemed warm and inviting and “normal,” whatever that means.

I’ve lived a storied history around T-Day. Our family arrived in the US from Canada on Thanksgiving day in 1966. Our own Thanksgiving was a month earlier, catching us unaware. My father moved the family to California so my parents could afford to put three girls through college. We sold our Canadian home in June, but delayed visas landed us in the States months later than planned. We arrived to changed circumstances.

A California nursery hired Dad to manage the business, but in the interim months, the owner filed for bankruptcy. We were on foreign soil, savings depleted with no paycheck in the foreseeable future.

Dad eventually got on his feet, but within three years, he died from lung cancer. My dad was a horticulturist by trade, a man who loved children and animals. He was creative, caring and kind. His death drove a freight train through my heart and left a black spot on the holiday season for the long-foreseeable future.

What have I learned all these years later? It’s okay to be different. Traditions aren’t carved in stone. No one lives in a Norman Rockwell painting (and if they did they would probably be insufferable)!  Hosting Thanksgiving in my home, with a new set of traditions is liberating.  We take the democratic approach to meal-planning. Three of us are vegetarians, so turkey is off the table. Our guests have a number of food sensitivities, so gluten and dairy factor in as well.  I want everyone to enjoy themselves, which means a free-floating, easy-going day without expectations.

For that, I give thanks.

Thanksgiving Day Menu, Prepared by Chef Mike

  • Manicotti
  • Pasta with Marinara Sauce
  • Green salad
  • Steamed broccoli
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Garlic Bread
  • Sourdough Bread
  • Apple Pie, a la mode
  • Pumpkin pie with whipped topping

Sparkling cider, apple cider, apple juice and wine

What do you know?

The Normal Rockwell painting I envision this time of year was actually published in the spring!  It’s one of four paintings, inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt entitled Freedom from Want.  Read on…

13 thoughts on “Creating Your Own Traditions: The Un-Thanksgiving

  1. Such a lovely tribute to your Dad – he sounds like a wonderful man who passed many of his qualities onto you x I admire your approach to traditions as it is so easy to get caught up in what “should” happen rather than enjoying the time of year. One year we forgot to defrost the turkey for Christmas and eventually ate at 11pm (I’m veggie too but thought I’d hang on) and it was one of the best days ever!
    I’ll be thinking of you at the weekend Alys so leave some virtual pumpkin pie for me!!


    • Thank you, PJ, for reading and for your generous comments. It is easy to remain caught up in traditions. It has taken me many years to “get here” so to speak. What a relief, though, to realize you can do things your own way, as you fold others needs into your own.

      You’re a vegetarian! I should have guessed, with your gentle approach to so many things.

      Funny story about dinner at 11 but as you say, one of the best days ever. Thanks for your thoughts. I will save you some virtual pumpkin pie!


  2. What a wonderful story! I think your Dad would be proud of you and your tribute to him is very much what Thanksgiving should be about. I’m going out for dinner Thursday. I cook the monster meal two weeks later, put the food out, and step back as the fighting over what isn’t “perfect” begins. Can you tell I don’t care 😉
    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your lovely sister. I’m thankful for your input on my blog!


    • “Monster meal” is a great way to describe it. All that food, all those calories and boy what a lot of work. I’m sorry to hear that those around you don’t show the appreciation they should. I’m not much of a cook, and as such, really appreciate a meal cooked on my behalf.

      Thank you for your kind comments about my piece, my dad and my sister. We are both enjoying your blog.

      Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.


  3. Funny, I’ve never seen that Norman Rockwell painting before – but it does look just like my mother’s Thanksgiving dinner, which I love. But I love your menu and dinner table always and I’m always torn on whether to spend the holidays with my family where I’m “home” or yours where I’m also “home”

    I love your post, thank you for sharing a remarkable story. My holidays are truly enlightened by the spirit of each one distinctly when I’m with the people I love and the food I love so much – which is around my mother’s table and your table. The spirit of Thanksgiving is “sharing,” remembering our American tradition (the story of the pilgrims and Indians), giving thanks and being with those we love.


    • Nichole, your family feels like that painting. Your folks do an amazing job creating a welcoming home for all of you, your nieces and nephews, and lucky friends like us. I’m so glad you feel equally at home at our place. You will always be family to us, too. My boys are enriched for having you in their lives.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.


  4. Love the stories about your Dad & so glad you are creating new traditions to help heal that holiday whole.We have been working on new traditions as well. For years I said that if I couldn’t eat my mother’s stuffing, I would rather skip traditional Thanksgiving dinner & now may never eat it again. We’d fit right in at your table 🙂 I hope you and your family and guests enjoy a lovely, relaxing day


    • Betsy, thanks so much for commenting. I know how much you’re missing your mom, and how special she was to you. Holidays are hard on a lot of people. We feel the loss of those close to us, and it can seem more pronounced around this time.

      You are welcome to stop by any time. Best of luck with your holiday ahead. (((Betsy)))


  5. I see where you got your love of nature and gardening. Seems as if you’re carrying on your Dad’s legacy. I declared a moratorium this year and am not doing much of anything- no turkey, no big production. I’ll probably miss the leftovers but maybe not. My fridge has a lot more space.

    May you and your family and friends have a wonderful day.


    • Hello Susan, Thanks so much for reading and commenting. You are so gracious.

      I like the idea of doing less and applaud you for taking the year off. I don’t think you’ll miss the leftovers one bit! And hurray for a clean fridge.


  6. Your dear dad really made a great adventure of life, such beautiful tribute Alys. It would seem that he’s really influenced your life in so many ways. He would be so happy to see you celebrating with your loved ones. I would fancy everything on your menu especially pumpkin pie. Jim & I have always been less than traditional on the Hallmark occasions since I’m such a picky eater. In fact the true Ukrainian tradition is to prepare 12 meatless dishes on Christmas Eve. So I can easily go without any meat and prefer all the other goodies. I’m thankful for the friendship you’ve extended my way and I’ll be thinking of you tomorrow, have a beautiful day xoK


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