squareshpt              spaghetti

My kids were young when I was a single parent, and I always spent Thanksgiving with family and friends.

When I became part of a stepfamily in 2001, I wanted to start some specific Thanksgiving traditions. Your first holidays together can set precedent for the future, but I was feeling overwhelmed. So that first year, my mother- in-law hosted us and other relatives. It was a relaxing time with someone else doing most of the cooking but we all chipped in including the kids. That bought me two more years until the next time…

But our second Thanksgiving together, I was ready to set a precedent, and it turned out to have a life of its own. First, my husband, Mike, and I decided to have Thanksgiving in our home. Second, since Thanksgiving is an important celebration, we chose to have the meal at our more formal dining room area. The kids (all four between ages 8-10) were thrilled to be sitting at the formal table.

But what to cook? When I was growing up, we had the traditional fare – but that was what I was used to. As a stepfamily, everyone comes from different traditions and food choices or none at all, so that can make it hard. Our children didn’t like the same food but I was wanting a “traditional” Thanksgiving ritual for our family. But I also wanted everyone to be included and have a stake in the success. I started asking each family member what they would like to eat and help make for our Thanksgiving meal. I was surprised to find that everyone liked having their own choice, and I was relieved that each child would have at least one or two things they like to eat.

I planned for the turkey- cooking it in a roasting bag- (just follow the package directions)- for the easiest, juiciest turkey and gravy ever.

Mike picked stuffing, and green bean casserole.

My stepdaughter asked for her favorite salad I make with sweet dressing.

My stepson chose spaghetti- (he’s not a big turkey fan)- and the lime green jello his Grandma makes.

Jessica, my oldest, wanted hot rolls.

My younger daughter loves mashed potatoes and corn on the cob.

It was the loveliest hodge podge of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner I’ve ever seen. We planned when and how to make the dishes. Those we could make ahead of time, we made the day before. Each child worked with me to make what they wanted, and helped serve it. After dinner, everyone was assigned a chore- pick up dishes, clear the table, sweep the floor, etc., so that no one was stuck in the kitchen.

And our other new tradition:  Mike cut up squares of colored paper.

While we were waiting for the last few minutes of the turkey to cook, he gave out a handful to each of us. He said to write one thing we were grateful for on each square. They were both fun things like- my toys, my Suduko, etc. and serious- like friends, God, family members, good food, etc.

After saying the blessing and eating, we sat around the table with that big pile of colored paper squares. We went around the table and each person would pull out one square and read it.

Then we had fun trying to figure who wrote it. We went around the table many times reading from the squares about all that we were grateful for.

It was the sweetest moment for me. Teaching our children what Thanksgiving means. Seeing and understanding each person’s blessings literally on all those colored squares.

How about you? As for those colored squares of paper, you can do those anywhere- at your home, in the car, on a cruise, or anywhere that you holidays lead you.

Once you figure out the traditions that work for you, it will feel like Thanksgiving no matter the day or who is with you.

And that is a blessing, too.