This week we’re focusing on Thanksgiving traditions. 

We in the U.K do not actually celebrate Thanksgiving, so I’ll write about our past and present Christmas celebrations instead.

I grew up in a non-religious family on both sides, and so as a young girl Christmas to me wasn’t about going to church, or having lots of presents and a turkey dinner.  My presents were always given to me in advance every year by my parents and other members of the family in a somewhat ‘here you go, here’s your present’ fashion, and my mother hated cooking (just like I do) and so it was always tense in the kitchen.  Instead I looked forward with eagerness every year to the Christmas party that my father’s cousin Rene and her husband Bill hosted every Christmas night.  All my father’s side of the family would get together for a good old-fashioned East End get-together.  There would be singing and dancing into the small hours, and I got to hang out with my cousins and dance the night away.

When I married Sam I had been used to this kind of party for many years.  However, Sam’s family are rather staid and un-musical, and unfortunately there were no parties on his side of the family.  Also by the time I had grown up Rene, Bill, my grandparents and much of the elder generation had died off, so it was up to Sam and I to create some new traditions.

I did try a party the first year we were married, but I found it wasn’t as exciting as when I’d been young.  Hosting your own party puts the dampers on your own enjoyment, as we were too busy making sure everybody else was having a good time.  The next few Christmas celebrations were either spent at my mother’s house or at my in-laws until the children came along.  Once we were parents then we would spend the morning with our sons opening presents, and then carry on the tradition of seeing my mother on Christmas Day and Sam’s parents the following year for dinner, with us usually providing the turkey.

When Mum grew elderly we would go out for Christmas dinner as a family.  Neither I nor my mother felt any joy at being stuck in a kitchen all Christmas morning, so we saved up and went out to a restaurant for years.  Now that our sons are grown, they fight good-naturedly about inviting us over for dinner.  This year we are going to Marc’s house and providing the turkey, and next year it will be Leon’s house.  This suits me, as I don’t have to cook!

Marc’s wife comes from a family who make a big thing of Christmas.  There’s the Christingle church service and midnight mass on Christmas Eve, stockings hanging on fireplaces, home baking for weeks beforehand, traditional stories read year after year, and wishes sent up chimneys.  I enjoy the church services with my daughter-in-law and her extended family (my mother was and still is of the opinion that you can live a good Christian life without needing to go to church), but I’m a realist and cannot really relate to sending wishes up a chimney to a totally fabricated entity!  I inherited the realism gene from Mum, who told me at the tender age of 3 that I didn’t have to worry about a strange man dressed in red coming down our chimney, as Father Christmas didn’t really exist.  I was fine with that explanation, and I remember trying to tell other children at school too, but they didn’t believe me!

We never really made any Christmas traditions apart from us providing a turkey to whoever is hosting the dinner.  I know it’s a shame, but I experienced the best Christmas parties ever as a child, and try as I might, I’m afraid I just can’t get that excited about it anymore.  I enjoy the family get-togethers though, and after 59 years I find I’m agreeing with many of the Buddhist teachings, so perhaps there’s hope for me yet on the religious front…

What preparations are you making for Thanksgiving or Christmas?

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