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Many of us remember the first verse of that old Thanksgiving favorite, “Over the river and through the wood, to grandmother’s house we go.” Even if we weren’t traveling long distances to get-together with family, it always conjured up the Thanksgiving holiday traditions. Nowadays, more than a few grandparents are on the road to visit the grandchildren and travel much farther than a few miles to get there.
Growing up, the word “family” meant one very specific group of people, most of them connected by blood-relatives of one sort or another. As more and more children and grandchildren move farther away from their families, the meaning of family has changed. Although in my childhood home, there were always one or two late additions, who couldn’t get together with their own families, family referred to those related by blood. Sometimes a Thanksgiving Day meal would include a friend or two whose families were grown and gone, students from the college, or one or two folks who we barely knew but couldn’t really call a stranger. But mostly the gathering was for the family.
The afternoon after the dinner included lots of footballótelevised games and touch football on the front lawn. The only thing different about a “back East” Thanksgiving celebration and an “out West” holiday was the weather. The end of November back East was still fall, and it is winter here most years. Invited by friends to share their holidays most years, our small family of four didn’t miss out on the traditional day of feasting and watching football. Yet, all too often it seems our expectations of holiday gatherings are so high sometimes that no gathering can meet the qualifications. The greeting card and floral display companies that depend upon nostalgic remembrances bombard us with advertisements that picture the traditional family group. Their sticky- sweet remembrances are purposely made-for-marketing and even our own memories of Thanksgivings past become heavy on the sentimental side of things.
The complicated relationships built into the family units are forgotten, except for the jokes told by comedians about the hostility under all that fine dining. If you think about it, the first Thanksgiving gathering was probably just as complicated. More than likely, the peacemakers among the pilgrims and the Native Americans were too busy smoothing things over throughout the feast to eat much. So when we sit down together to give thanks, it is important to remember that sharing a meal with each other should be easy. No strings attached, just lots of fun and food for one day. Happy Thanksgiving, one and all!