There’s the Macy’s parade and football, but most Thanksgiving traditions center around food. Maybe you’re an honored guest this year and all you have to do is bring a bottle of wine, then dine. Cheers! Bon appetit! Please read on, but this recipe for new traditions is for our generous hosts. If your home will be scented with fresh sage and you’ll need to stash an oven rack in the garage to make room for the bird, if you’re borrowing chairs and asking around for grandma’s pecan pie recipe, this one’s for you. One of your ancestors originally started every tradition you already cherish, so try something new this year and make your own mark on America’s favorite holiday.
Add a cup of kindness
As you’re preparing for your own feast, pick up a few extra items to share with our neighbors who need a helping hand. The PROP food shelf accepts non-perishable food donations and grocery store gift cards every weekday morning. MoveFwd serves homeless young people in Eden Prairie and welcomes toiletries, portable foods like protein bars, new socks and gift cards. (Check both websites for drop off hours.) Another non-profit, Help at Your Door, delivers groceries to elderly and disabled people in Eden Prairie to help them stay in their own homes. Consider volunteering to help with deliveries while you’re running your own errands. If your family makes year-end cash donations, it’s nice to include children in choosing the non-profit organizations that mean the most to you as a deliberate exercise in giving back.
Mix in a dash of new friends
Many of us grew up sitting at the “kids’ table.” Some of us remember sitting elbow to elbow with big, raucous groups of relatives, others have more sedate memories of smaller, elegant gatherings. We know lots of young people who celebrate “Friendsgiving” separately because they’ve established their own close bonds in addition to their families. We like the idea of following their lead and inviting someone new who would be honored to join your festivities. Invite a single coworker who just moved to Minnesota, your college student’s friend from another country, the elderly gentleman from next door, maybe even an entire family who’s new in town. Share your traditions with them and invite them to bring something along that represents their own heritage, home state or family.
Whisk in a tablespoon of whimsy
Most Thanksgiving gatherings are all about the food. Some of us can’t escape football in place of background music. Consider adding a completely different game or two to your party. Create your own Thanksgiving Mad Libs, play pin the tail feather on the turkey, or go around the table with the “I’m thankful for” game, with everyone taking turns naming something they appreciate for the next letter in the alphabet. Small children love “turkey feather races” with fluffy feathers and turkey basters. Keep tech-savvy teens engaged by gathering a few props and putting them in charge of a photo booth. You can even plan a neighborhood event. One Eden Prairie neighborhood kicks off their holiday with a “Turkey Trot.” They congregate in a cul-de-sac, walk or run around the neighborhood with their kids and dogs, gather for a cup of cocoa by a bonfire, then disperse to cook their respective feasts.
Stir up a 9×13 pan of unexpected flavors
In many families, it’s all about the sides and the pies. Sure, there’s a turkey, but we get carried away with the mashed potatoes, cranberries, yams, stuffing and pie varieties. That green bean casserole with mushrooms and fried onions hasn’t disappeared yet. We live in hot dish heartland and adding one more, church basement style, seems about right. Opt for a different concoction every year. Make it a secret. Something you can make ahead, cover with foil and pop in the oven. Get your guests to guess what this year’s hot dish might be, based on the aroma when you lift up a corner of the foil. We like the idea of surprising everyone with something not usually associated with a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Maybe you’ll choose curried rice, enchiladas or lasagna. If you have an old family cookbook, browse through to find a long-lost recipe that none of the kids have tried before. It’s a fun way to bring up stories about relatives who aren’t around anymore.
Spice things up with sous chefs
Think of ways to make the prep work fun and give yourself more time to visit while sipping on pinot noir. Make a few items ahead, take charge of the turkey, then appoint family members to create side dishes on Thanksgiving Day. Even if you like to be in control, the fun of having assistants in your kitchen outweighs the glory of cooking an entire meal. Make sure your recipes are full of detailed instructions, then either make assignments, let your family choose what they want to prepare or – if you’re feeling really brave – hold them up like a card hand and let everyone pick their dish. Mix in a “recipe” or two for clean-up duties, too.
Garnish with new holiday décor
Take the break you deserve and go shopping! Buy something beautiful for yourself to make your home and table prettier than ever. Take a short and scenic drive from Eden Prairie and visit Naomi Loeslie. She curates beautiful home décor objects for White Birch House in Victoria. We’re so glad we found her store! Stepping into her boutique this month feels like you’re coming home to the loveliest Thanksgiving you’ve ever seen. She’s chosen a canvas of neutral tones in cream and gray, accented with classic fall colors and natural textures. Naomi has a knack for finding things that feel comfortable and welcoming, perfect for Thanksgiving. You’ll be inspired to take her style home. Choose a big table with benches and accent chairs, dinner plates, wooden pumpkins, wine glasses and napkins with a hint of gold tucked in dainty silver rings. Ask her to help you design a unique centerpiece for your fall table, filling pottery or wooden vessels with candles and stems. Naomi loves to share her time and talent with her customers. She also offers special items like “the thankful bowl,” for guests to record their gratitude on pretty cards for sharing at your table. The textiles at White Birch House are so cozy, you won’t even mind the chill in the air.
It’s a feast, so of course you want the food to be the star but gathering together is at the heart of Thanksgiving. Never mind if the turkey is overdone or the gravy is lumpy. Even if your food is perfect, it’s really the people and their stories that become a part of family lore. There’s something so sweet about counting our blessings and expressing our gratitude with people we love. Whether your festivities involve a Rockwellesque brined turkey served on your mother-in-law’s china or a rotisserie chicken dished up on paper plates, look around the table you set. Think about the faces around you and the faces you miss, and be glad you brought them together, in your home and in your heart.