Monday, November 1, 2010

The November Project

At 2.25 years old, my twins are finally at an age when they are beginning to understand and appreciate tradition. They have learned to sing "Happy birthday to youuuu!" although they still occasionally sing it to themselves. They tear into wrapped presents, and show great restraint when watching someone else open a gift. They swarm around the chocolate Santas already stocked in the grocery store and yell, "SANTA! HO HO HO!" before they fall upon them. And as of yesterday, they have a deep love for Halloween, or at least for asking strangers for candy. Watching them divvy up the spoils last night, skillfully bartering with friends to exchange a package of gummi bears for a coveted chocolate bar, I had flashbacks to my own childhood.

After scouring the neighborhood, house to house often through three foot snow drifts (back when it used to snow...), we would reconvene in the living room by 7pm, emptying pillow cases filled with mini Baby Ruth bars, circus peanuts and candy corn, Twizzlers, and the occasional tooth brush from the neighborhood (smart ass) dentist. We'd shed our costumes, outfits that mom often made herself, projects she worked on painstakingly for weeks, and sit by the fire, admiring the towering mountain of sugar we had amassed before mom would make us put it all in a big Tupperware container; she would ration out a few pieces each day, depositing them into our school lunches.

Halloween for me heralded the beginning of the real holiday season - the Thanksgiving/Christmas season. Thanksgiving meant heading up north to our (other) cousins' cottage where we would play football in the snow all afternoon while my mom and aunt slaved away at the stove. We would tuck into the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries, green bean casserole and pecan pie around 5 pm, the kids and adults at one long table. I'd have already prepared my soliloquy when it came time to share one thing I was thankful for. We would retired to the living room after dinner for a raucous game of Family Feud, the board game.

My family rituals frame my childhood memories. And now that I am a parent myself, I realize how important it is to carry on these traditions - not only because I enjoy them, but for my children, for their memories. And while they may not really be old enough to remember going trick or treating last night, they woke up talking about it this morning. And when we look at the photographs, we will talk about it again. And when we remind them about the time we carved a face into a pumpkin and got chocolate from the neighbors, they will ask when they get to go again.

And so it is for the kids (and mostly probably, admittedly, for ME), that I begin planning my 4th annual Thanksgiving Extravaganza. For the fourth year in a row, I will squeeze over thirty people, mostly Germans, into my living room and present them with a traditional holiday spread, scenes from the Macy Thanksgiving Day parade and will force them, and some do need serious cajoling, to participate in what has become known amongst past participants as Dankbarzeit, literally, thankful time, and for the record, a German word of my own invention.

Only a madwoman would take on cooking for 30 people on her own and I like to think I still have some of my wits about me. Therefore, I assign recipes to anyone who asks, "Can I bring anything?" Yes, they get assignments. This is not a free-for-all potluck. German kartoffelsalat is NOT allowed on my American Thanksgiving table. Last year, diners paired up and together made a double portion of their assignment - garlic mashed potatoes, stuffings, pumpkin pies, gratins, and more. SO, the November project will be a prelude to Thanksgiving, a love letter to one of my favorite American holidays, and an incentive to prepare my recipes, decoration and logistics. I would also love to hear from YOU - variations on a traditional recipe that have become staples at your Thanksgiving table? A recipe that you tried that was a huge success or a miserable failure? I need to know! After all, I have traditions to create for these two....

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