Conversations: Family Traditions

December 4, 2018

Families gather to discuss the things that matter most to them, including holiday traditions. Three generations of a Seattle, Washington-based family recently did just that while making plans for the current holiday season. Family matriarch Mable, her son Todd, daughter-in-law Kate and grandson Nathaniel also served up a few funny memories amidst their sprawling meal.

Nathaniel: Can we please start with dinner disasters? This is my all-time favorite family tradition, planned or not, and no one tells them like Grandma.

Mable: Promise to fix my computer after dinner and I’ll consider it.

Nathaniel: Deal. Now spill!

Mable: Hmmmm, debating whether to include the ones involving the Center for Poison Control….Maybe I’ll just remind everyone about the first year Todd decided he’d bring the turkey for family Christmas dinner. (Kate: this is before your time.) It looked gorgeous on the outside, all golden brown, and presented on a beautiful platter. You should have seen the proud look on his face. But Todd decided he didn’t need any of my help and had followed online instructions for cooking a fresh turkey, not a frozen one. Grandpa went to carve it and the center was still frozen!

Todd: Raw, Mom, not frozen. There’s a big difference. Though…I suppose both equally inedible.

Kate: Hmmmm. Our first turkey as a couple didn’t fare much better. This time Todd at least allowed the bird to thaw, but he cooked it without removing the innards. (I obviously knew about as much back then as he did about roasting giant birds.) Halfway through cooking the turkey, our entire apartment reeked from the smell of baked guts. We had to shift our first Thanksgiving to a little diner around the corner—the only place open we could find.

Mable: Oh, I remember that phone call when you were both still away at college…poor dears.

Nathaniel: I want the cat story!

Mable: OK, OK. I knew that was what you were angling for. So, I was going through an experimental stage a few years back and decided to include oysters in the stuffing that Christmas. I was thrilled when nearly everyone at the table had loved it and was even asking for seconds. I went in the kitchen to bring out the last of the stuffing and found that Whiskers had cleaned out the dish. He was so old and blind, I wasn’t sure if he’d mistaken it for his dish of food or was just being naughty. I went outside to scold him and found him near the porch: dead! Of course, I feared the worst and gave everyone ipecac syrup to make us all throw up what I was sure to be rancid oyster stuffing. We were all so miserable. And it wasn’t until later that night when the first of you began leaving that we I saw the note our neighbor Joan had taped to front door, begging forgiveness for having mistakenly backed up her car into Whiskers!

Nathaniel: Poor Whiskers….

Todd: Poor Whiskers? Poor us! You were among the lucky few who didn’t eat Grandma’s infamous stuffing that year Nathaniel, which probably explains why you like that story so much. Mom: I think you should compile these family stories into a book: “Recipes for Disaster.”

Mable: Ha!

Kate: So, as the only “inducted” Anderson here at the table, I’ll do my best to summarize the traditions I inherited by marrying into this jaunty family. (Turning to Todd) You let me know what I forget. Christmas caroling has to be one of my favorite: such a darling tradition, even if most of us are hilariously off-key. The best part is the look on our new neighbors’ faces the first time we inflict this on them. Like: “OK, where’s the hidden camera? Why are you doing this to us? Am I allowed to close the door on you guys?”

Todd: Not true. Most of them love it—some even go back inside to throw on an ugly Christmas sweater just to get into the spirit of things.

Nathaniel: You mean: so that we’re not the only ones wearing ugly Christmas sweaters!

Todd: (Shrugs) OK, maybe there’s that. So it’s something of a mercy wardrobe change. It’s still nice of them.

Kate: Well I think caroling is a very sweet way to gather the troops, learn a few new songs and meet some of the people in our neighborhood. I even brought sheet music for a few new contenders for this year.

Mable: Well my favorite new family tradition is the video family letter we created last year along with the annual family photo. I watched the one from last Thanksgiving all year long—whenever I found myself missing you all most. I’m only sorry that we didn’t start that tradition before Grandpa died. I’d love to be able to hear his voice.

Todd: To see his face…the funny way dad would twitch his mustache whenever he was about to get all patriarchal.

Nathaniel: Yeh, you always knew when a big family proclamation was coming by the mustache gymnastics. I miss that. The youngest grandkids can’t even remember him, not like me, because I’m older.

Mable: That’s a good point, Nathaniel. I need to go through old videos of Grandpa—maybe you can help me convert them to digital after we make this year’s family letter?

Nathaniel: You got it Gram.

Todd: I love our family tradition of partnering with Santa and the Post Office in early December for Operation Santa. Not every letter ends up making it all the way to the North Pole, and the ones that don’t still need to be answered.

Nathaniel: They digitized it now dad, lets you help Operation Santa no matter where you live.

Mable: But Nathaniel, I love our tradition of all heading over to the Post Office together. Let’s still do that, OK? The younger cousins need your good example. For this and for helping out at the church food pantry and soup kitchen. They really look up to you and these are some of my favorite ways to spend time with you kids during the holidays. I love having you all together and then taking you out for hot chocolate and ice skating afterward.

Nathaniel: OK, OK, sold!

Todd: Mom, you don’t have to bribe the kids—the cousins like doing nice things for other people. You’ve been doing this kind of thing with us for two generations; I think by now we can safely say it’s a locked-in family tradition. The other holiday thing you’ve always done with us is attending choral music concerts in great old churches. I love seeing the way other people worship at this time of year. I mean, I obviously love our own church too, but it’s nice to have an excuse to spend time in other beautiful houses of worship. Kate and I took that tradition on the road with us last summer on our trip to Europe: “sacred music in sacred places” became a theme for us everywhere we traveled.

Kate: Mable, we’ve actually taken your idea a step further in another direction as well and made it a tradition in our home to celebrate all kinds of cultural holidays throughout the year—from Chinese New Year to Kwanza, Cinco de Mayo, and Passover. Nathaniel always researches the customs associated with the holiday and it’s been a fun way to keep the holiday spirit going all year round.

Nathaniel: Yeh, Gram: you’re one-stop-shopping for good ideas!

Mable: Well I like what you’ve done with these ideas. It’s nice to see how they persist and percolate through all of your homes. (Turning to Nathaniel) And my latest good idea is help me clear the table and then we’ll go sort out the tech!

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