Family traditions are more common during this jacket-wearing, Hallmark movie time of year. Some may say family football is the way to go. Others may say homemade sweet potato casserole is key to the holiday festivities. With different people holding different traditions, this time of year can be meaningful for each of us in different ways.
As Thanksgiving is coming near, I asked a few faculty members about their families’ annual holiday traditions.
Dr. Myra Houser, assistant professor of history, grew up observing Thanksgiving in a country that did not celebrate the holiday.
“I grew up mostly overseas, so a lot of times that meant I was in school, and it wasn’t really a holiday that people celebrated. My mom would use the occasion to tell us about American traditions, so we would read about the first Thanksgiving and then usually decorate our tree—in the summer!” Dr. Houser said. “Sometimes, when we were in the States, we would see my grandparents and do the more traditional Thanksgiving meal. If I’m with my mom, that is still what we usually do. With my dad, we all love cooking, but nobody really likes the traditional food, so we usually do something yummy—Mexican, Indian, Laotian.
“Some of my favorite Thanksgivings are big family reunions,” she added. “Like last year, my cousin got married on the Saturday after, so my mom’s whole side of the family was together. We did more wedding stuff than traditional Turkey Day stuff, and it was a lot of fun.”
For Dr. Joe Jeffers and his family, there is a process for cooking the prized Thanksgiving turkey. And then, of course, there is the dressing.
“We always smoke a turkey. (I know. I know. Where do we find papers big enough? Joke! Ask your parents.) My son has a Green Egg. No better device for smoking a turkey,” said Dr. Jeffers, professor emeritus of chemistry. “My wife Charlotte makes the best dressing—yes, dressing, not stuffing. My kids still fight over the leftover dressing.”
On the other hand, for Tiffany Eurich, assistant professor of communications, the traditional Thanksgiving dinner is not the annual dinner she craves every year: it’s Christmas dinner.
“I don’t actually like traditional Thanksgiving food,” she said. “It’s not my favorite, but I do like the cranberries and sweet potatoes and green bean casserole. We do have this one odd dish [at Thanksgiving]. It was probably birthed out of the World War II scarcity that swept America. My grandmother Nadine made this orange Jell-o salad. It had orange and pineapple, topped with a mixture of dream whip, and covered in cheddar cheese. Only my sister and I eat it. It’s one of those ‘don’t knock it until you try it’ dishes.”
While many families go all out for Thanksgiving, Eurich’s dad started a tradition years ago that has made Christmas dinner the highlight for their family.
“Shortly after my parents got married (so it was probably in the ‘70s), my dad wanted this brand new invention, but my mom was convinced no one would ever use it: a microwave,” she laughed. “Well, my dad said that if he could buy the microwave, he would cook Christmas dinner entirely in the microwave…That’s how the tradition started. So for years my dad has being cook Christmas dinner, and it’s always a dinner that is really unique. He likes to bring the world to us. It’s this big surprise and a culmination of the world, really. We can’t wait for dad to reveal it. He plans the meal months in advance and ships things in from all over the world. The meals are usually elaborate and take several days to prep. My dad is just fearless when it comes to Christmas dinner, and it always comes out perfectly.”
Dr. Benjamin Utter, assistant professor of English, remembers experiencing a drastic cultural shift in certain holiday traditions after moving from Minnesota to Arkansas.
“I had been told to expect some cultural differences, but I was blindsided, nonetheless, when the kind church members who hosted us for our first southern Thanksgiving considered sweet potatoes an acceptable substitute for the mashed potatoes and gravy, which had always been my favorite part of the meal. Simply scandalous,” Utter said. “These days, though, I have bigger problems—and not just because I’ve become one of those tiresome people who generally avoids carbohydrates. More often than not, Thanksgiving Day finds my wife, a physician, needing to put in a long day of work at the hospital. So it’s rare that we’re able to enjoy an ideal holiday dinner together, at least on the grand day itself.
“One consolation, though, has been the introduction of a new tradition: my participation in the choir at the 10 o’clock Thanksgiving morning service at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Little Rock,” he said. “This year, the Pinnacle Brass, and other area choirs, will be joining the Cathedral choir to sing Caesar Franck’s ‘Psalm 150,’ Parry’s ‘O Praise Ye the Lord,’ Billings’ ‘O Praise the Lord of Heaven,’ and the absolutely amazing ‘O Salutaris Hostia’ by Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds.”
As you go home for the holidays, enjoy the unique traditions of your family and community. And when traditions come and go, remember that it is time spent with family and friends that makes Thanksgiving what it is—a reminder of what we are thankful for.
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