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There are fun and creative ways for kids to contribute to family traditions on Thanksgiving.
Grandmother, Mother and Granddaughter Cooking
Child Drawing Turkey Hand Thanksgiving
Monday, November 19, 2012
I’ll never forget the feeling I had every Thanksgiving as a boy. I think people call it “starvation.”
Sure, we celebrated Thanksgiving the way most American families do, by piling our good Chinet dinner plates with foods we never ate any other day — which, when it came to canned cranberry sauce, was OK with me — and then watching football games we didn’t give a giblet about.
Oh look! The Detroit Lions are losing to somebody again!
None of that holiday face-stuffing happened until late in the day, however. We never ate much on Thanksgiving Day before the big meal. I would have a bowl of Cheerios for breakfast, then my brother Ricky and I would split a can of Chef Boyardee ravioli for lunch. When our youngest brother Billy was old enough to earn a seat at the table, we split the can three ways. And we walked to school uphill both ways barefoot.
Anyway, by dinner time, I was so hungry, I buried my face in the bowl of mashed potatoes and doused my head in gravy, a Thanksgiving tradition I proudly continue until this day.
Looking back, the reason for this traditional Thanksgiving Day fast is obvious. My poor mother spent her entire day cooking a feast for more than a dozen members of my family, which included grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. She even baked in a second stove that was in our basement .
Meanwhile, the boys, including my dad, all journeyed outdoors for the annual Thanksgiving Day rabbit hunt, which was basically just a long walk in the woods with guns. Or we played football in the front yard or just sat around watching TV. That is, when we were not whining to Mom about the ironic possibility of starving to death on Thanksgiving Day.
In other words, my brothers and I were hardly involved with Thanksgiving traditions around our house, except for eating and driving Mom nuts.
Now that I am a full-blooded grown-up, I am wondering about how best to get my daughter involved with Thanksgiving. She’s only 6, so she can’t exactly brine a turkey. Neither can I, come to think of it. But surely there are ways to get her to pitch in and maybe even make it fun.
Include the kids
Lately, she has been setting the dinner table all by herself, without any prodding from her parents. She pretends that our kitchen is her restaurant — the Lion Good Time or something equally nonsensical. Perhaps she can be our waitress on Thanksgiving Day.
I queried friends and neighbors about their family traditions.
“Little ones ... love to play waitress,” my friend Lucinda McDermott Piro wrote in an email. “Give her an apron, some funny glasses, a hat, pen and paper and she can go around and take everyone’s drink order.”
The holidays are a perfect time to tap into children’s creative talents, said Piro, herself a singer, playwright and actress.
“I liked to get crafty, so I was in charge of things like name/place holders, making a turkey out of a pine cone with construction paper tail with a person’s name,” she wrote.
“As I got older, I might be in charge of a particular dish, or help with stirring or certainly stuffing the turkey, setting the table, pulling out or picking out the special plates [and] serving dishes.”
My neighbor Karen Blanchard pointed out that when you have four kids, like she does, sometimes it’s best to keep them out of the kitchen. To keep them out of mom’s hair, she has them make place mats for the table.
“Using construction paper, wrapping paper, paper grocery bags ... we pour the craft bin out on the dining table Thanksgiving morning and let the kids go to town with markers, glue, glitter, stickers and more,” she said. “We usually encourage the kids to get creative while keeping in the theme of Thanksgiving. When we set the table for the holiday feast the kids love displaying their masterpieces.”
Boys can get involved in the kitchen, too. Who knew? Piro’s brother learned from their mother how to clean, stuff and tie up a turkey, skills he has now passed on to his own son.
My friend Lissa Bloomer was inspired to teach her son and two daughters how to make family recipes after watching a TED Talk featuring celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. Her son Finn knows about four recipes and daughter Riley can make 20 “since she loves cooking,” Bloomer said. Youngest daughter and Tommie Lou is just starting.
Amy Hatheway’s family celebrates the meaning of the holiday.
“One year, we cut leaf shapes out of construction paper and before dinner everyone wrote, or got help writing, about something specific for which [he or she] was thankful,” Hatheway said. “Then, at dinner, we passed them all around. Everyone took one that wasn’t his and read it aloud. These leaves are still taped up around our dining room window.”
Rachelle Kuehl’s parents and in-laws live in Minnesota and usually can’t make it to Roanoke for Thanksgiving, so she and her family keep the celebration small.
“We do have a slight tradition of me bringing out a bunch of Thanksgiving books to read at the beginning of November,” she said, “and then me feeling a little guilty because our Thanksgivings never look like that — big family gathering, someone drops the turkey at the end but it’s all OK because we’re all together, that kind of thing. I never drop the turkey.”
I know, I know. Thanksgiving isn’t just about turkey. It’s about being thankful for what you have and taking time to help those who don’t have as much. The Roanoke Valley offers tons of opportunities for pitching in.
My family will participate in the Drumstick Dash Thursday morning — the 5K run and walk that benefits the Rescue Mission of Roanoke, which provides shelter and assistance to the homeless. The race now draws more than 14,000 people, which can make it more of a “drumstick dawdle,” as my wife calls it, if you get stuck in the back of the crowd. But it’s a dawdle for a good cause.
The Salvation Army, Roanoke Area Ministries and the Samaritan Inn can always use volunteers or donations. Each group provides holiday meals for those who have nowhere else to go.
Whether your children help out in a soup kitchen or in your own kitchen, it’s important for them to feel like they are making a positive contribution. They are not only making meals, they are making memories.
Which is why I am hankering for a can of Chef Boyardee right now. Half a can, anyway.
Ralph Berrier Jr.’s column runs every other Monday in Extra.
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