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Sushi for Thanksgiving? The importance of making your own holiday traditions.

As the commercial presence for the holidays creeps earlier each year, some might be tempted to write off the holidays altogether. Instead, families should take the opportunity to develop their own, unique holiday traditions.

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It’s that time of the year again. The cover of nearly every magazine in the market beckons with luscious pies, turkeys so tanned and glossy they look varnished, and copy that promises a holiday table transformed with each new recipe. Sixteen minutes after Halloween ends, somebody’s loading up the store CD player with Mariah Carey singing Christmas carols.

Someone mentioned Santa to my daughter the other day and all of a sudden I had this glaring awareness that Christmas was approximately seven weeks away, Thanksgiving even closer. The essence of the day is to gather with loved ones and eat great food. Who wouldn’t like that? But when it gets all dressed up with expectation and shopping bargains, there begins my resistance.

Why do I feel so over the holiday season this year before it even begins? I have an infant who doesn’t sleep well, so I’m more exhausted than I ever remember being before. That might be part of it, but it’s more than that. In the midst of what can feel like the commercial inundation of meaningless urging toward canned celebration (what I jokingly refer to as the “faux-lidays”), Thanksgiving feels like kind of an oasis. At least it used to.

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A few years ago, when I was working retail I had to leave my family at 5am the day after Thanksgiving to tend to Black Friday madness at the store where I worked. In the past decade, what used to be a day after Thanksgiving shopping frenzy has morphed – cruelly – into a day of Thanksgiving shopping frenzy.

This year, a number of retailers are trying to reverse this trend: Nordstrom, TJ Maxx / Marshalls, The Home Depot, Costco, and others have now wisely opted out of this insidious trend. Instead of being tethered to a cash register or nearly being trampled by shoppers out of their wits to score a crazy deal, hard-working employees can take a much deserved break and take off Thanksgiving day. What does it really take to remind us that this is the single holiday we used to reserve just for a celebration of family and gratitude?

My parents tried hard to make our holidays feel authentic and generous even with their very limited means and we are trying to do the same with our children. We want to keep the essence of this tradition focused where it ought to be – gratitude for the love of family and for our many blessings. As our children grow, we will likely shift the way we celebrate to include traditions that we create as a family over the years.

This year, with a toddler and a nursing infant, we’ll probably stay home or have a small celebration with my siblings and their families like we did last year. I’ll be grateful just to get a dish made for our family potluck dinner. We have discussed not even having turkey this year.

We’ve gone non-traditional before – lobster and a pork roast one year, a sushi dinner another year. We tried crafting homemade sushi after watching a couple of YouTube videos on how to do it – not as easy as it looks, really. We might have ended up swordfighting with floppy, badly crafted sushi rolls. Edamame is hard to screw up, thankfully. We ate what we could salvage, but I don’t think we’ve ever laughed that much during Thanksgiving and the burgers we ate later were delicious.

While sushi might not be on your menu, there are a lot of other ways to create meaningful traditions that make family celebrations memorable and unique. I polled a group of friends for a list of their favorite Thanksgiving family customs and I received great ideas in return: a community pie party, game night, nature walks, touch football games, an annual camping trip, and volunteering among them.

I’d like to begin folding acts of service into our holiday. My sister-in-law and her family are volunteering at their local prison to serve meals to inmates there; another friend takes her children and their dogs to a homeless shelter. The one year I spent Thanksgiving with my grandmother in her assisted living facility was the most meaningful holiday I had had in a long time – bringing palpable joy and comfort to others filled me more than any stuffing.

While at the the dump this week sorting my recycling, I found a copy of Thanksgiving-themed copy of Martha Stewart Living in the magazine bin. I was tempted – I almost picked it up to thumb through the pages. Maybe I would feel inspired to spend an afternoon with some mini pumpkins and gold spray paint or weave some branches into napkin rings. I didn’t. It felt so good to just leave it there and know that I could be happy this year keeping my focus on getting rest, maybe tidying my house (maybe), and enjoying my children.

This year we’ve discussed having a Mexican-style fiesta. Sign me up to bring the guacamole.

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