Generational Shifts

As this is published, I will be, like many Americans, recovering from Thanksgiving diner. But this year there will have been a difference – we were invited to dinner at the home of our son and his new bride. This made me start thinking about how holiday celebrations like these have changed through the years as older generations have left us and younger ones have filled in from below.

The Thanksgiving holiday (and the traditional dinner that comes with it) is as American as, well, pumpkin pie. The holiday was most ardently celebrated in the northeast until it worked its way throughout the nation in the first half if the previous century. Because my grandfather was a native of New England, Thanksgiving was always a major thing in my life.

Thankgiving, like most other major family celebrations, took place at the home of the older folks – my grandparents. On both sides of the family, grandparents’ homes were the gathering place where all of the generations came together. That seemed natural to me up into my teens – family events required a trip. As the song says, “Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go.”

But then we watched grandparents age out of hosting these celebrations and our parents took over. Thanksgivings no longer involved all of the aunts, uncles and cousins, but a smaller family that seemed to be more divided by geography. And in my own case, further divided by parents who had divorced. My father loved Thanksgiving like he loved no other holiday, and I treasure the memories of Thanksgiving at Dad’s. That was the one day of the year when he commanded the kitchen and saw to it that everything was done to his specifications.

My mother was more of a Christmas girl, but she enjoyed her Thanksgivings too. It was a sadness in my life that I could never spend the full day with both of them, so choices had to be made. By my early 20’s Thanksgiving at Mom’s was a small affair with just four of us – Mom, me and my newly married sister and her hubs.

When I got married I lived over a hundred miles away from either of my parents and the new Thanksgiving ritual involved going to my mother-in-law’s house. Early on, those were some big, big dinners. Beyond Marianne’s mother there her five kids, two of whom were married with little kids of their own. Then there was Marianne’s aunt and uncle. They were the ones with the really big family of nine kids, with more than a handful of spouses and grandchildren by then. Both families did Thanksgiving and Christmas together, and Thanksgiving was always at Marianne’s mother’s house (that was not nearly big enough for that crowd).

As Marianne’s mother and aunt got older and as families continued to expand with marriages and more grandchildren, the holiday shrunk to just Marianne’s family, that usually numbered around seventeen people in three generations. One of the regrets of our life is that we did not do a better job of switching up our family Thanksgivings by going back to my family’s on alternate years. But there was something in my mother-in-law that expected everyone to be at her table, and everyone somehow accommodated – including Marianne’s sister who would attend two Thanksgiving dinners in one day – early with husband’s family and later with her own.

Then Marianne’s Mom got old enough that things subdivided again and we started having Thanksgiving at our own house. Again, we were down to our little unit of five plus a couple of local in-laws and maybe others dropping in for dessert later. Our meal was a little different, but we settled into a routine that was more-or-less automatic for how everything came together. Although there remains some tension about whether the sweet potato recipe from her family or mine is better.

About five years ago our Thanksgiving-hosting son invited us to his place – he is probably the most gifted cook in the whole family and had the house where he lived that year to himself for the holiday. It was still more-or-less our regular dinner and we supplied most of the traditional sides with John adding a thing or two beyond the roast turkey. But this year it will be his dinner all the way, with a less traditional menu that will center around roasted pork. It will also be a larger affair with members of his new in-laws coming too.

I like to think that Marianne and I still have the stuff within us to host several more Thanksgivings, and do not expect that this latest generational shift in hosting duties is permanent. But just in case it is, I will do my best to slide into my new role as one of the elders who can be a gracious guest at someone else’s table.

COAL Update: The family of 1995 gets a family car from 1968. A good time was had by all.

23 thoughts on “Generational Shifts

  1. Thanksgiving, and the related who goes where and does what, does indeed transition over the years. Like you and Marianne, we went to my in-laws house for years. For a number of reasons that has ceased. The last few years has seen just the three of us stay at the house by ourselves. While we haven’t branched out beyond the traditional turkey (the roast pork sounds rather tempting), it flirted with doing so this year due to a not completely thawed bird.

    We have no doubt the holiday will evolve for us yet again. It will be interesting to see how and when.

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    • It was a very pleasant day and while the menu selections were not “traditional Thanksgiving”, the food was delicious. And it was a whole lot easier. 🙂

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  2. Spent many years moving around the country, so have had a lot of time alone on the holidays. I’ve been lucky to live a few places with excellent food service, including restaurants that are open with “fixed price” meals for “holiday orphans” and even near me today, a deli in an upscale grocery store with ho-made Thanksgiving entrees sold by weight, easy to get a few slices of fresh cooked turkey, stuffing, and all the rest.

    Spent the day at my brothers, who basically, because he has the largest family, took over from my parents after they passed, BUT, realized this year, I’ve spent so many years out and about, that I really couldn’t care less. Had a good time, but not so much that I’d miss it. If they lived farther away, or out of state, I’d miss it more. I think the more ive been around, and the longer we live, it’s all the “weird beard” In-laws that barely fit into our family sociology and we’ve really been barely tolerating over the years that are starting to wear thin. Sometimes not worth the free meal.

    You’re stuck with your family, but you pick your friends…

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    • We have been fortunate to have avoided difficult/unpleasant people around the table, for the most part. This year our daughter-in-law’s divorced parents and her brother were there, and they were all nice people so it was not difficult at all. But I understand that not everyone is so lucky.

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  3. For reasons not entirely clear to me, Thanksgiving fell to my mom for the majority of my life. We went to my grandmother’s a few times when I was a kid, but otherwise Mom did it. Then the burden fell on me. I did it two years, or was it three, and then Margaret and I have done it since. I’m already ready to not do it anymore.

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    • It is funny how certain people get the job of holiday entertaining. My sister has never hosted a family holiday meal of any kind that I can recall (unless you count a summer cookout). Marianne’s sister has everyone over at Christmas and we somehow inherited Thanksgiving. Until this year. 🙂

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  4. I look on the Thanksgiving generational shift with mixed emotion.

    On one hand, I have some fond sentiment for the Thanksgivings of my youth, with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. But then I remember being awfully bored at those holiday dinners. No one in my extended family was my age; the adults didn’t want kids at the adults table, and the kids’ table didn’t want me because I was five years younger than any of them. I usually just found some place to hide out alone.

    In my 20s, I continued to journey up to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving, but each year it was like being put up on a witness stand. Grandparents and other relatives would quiz me: Are you dating anyone? When do you think you should be married by? Are you saving for retirement? Have you considered buying a house? Ugh… enough!

    Nowadays, Margaret and I spend Thanksgiving with just ourselves and our kids. Just four of us. Margaret loves to cook, so the food is terrific, and there’s no stress because we don’t travel and don’t have to impress relatives. Thanksgiving is now a holiday I genuinely look forward to. Plus, we eat early (done by 2:00 or 3:00), and then take a long walk afterwards. It’s a good way to spend a holiday; but not surprisingly I still miss the extended family.

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    • I can see how you would not miss those dinners. I wonder if the quiz is a Philly-area thing. My father always peppered us with questions of this kind when we visited, and I remember getting the same thing from my grandmother, but she was a fairly intense lady and I had always assumed that it was just her. But perhaps not?

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  5. You sure have had a varied Thanksgiving celebration through the years JP. After we moved to the States, it was just my parents and me, then just Mom and me – now just me, as I have no family. Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated in October as you know and, in those years, at the most, there were six people at our holiday table, adding my aunt who lived with my grandparents and we went to their home. I feel for the kids of divorced parents who must split up their day between each parent/step-parent’s home … it must be challenging. My handyman was here to do gutters on Thanksgiving morning and he bemoaned the fact that he had to eat Thanksgiving dinner twice … at his parents and his in-laws. Tough to do I’m sure. It’s nice for you and Marianne to have a break from the mess and expense and enjoy a feast prepared by your offspring.

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  6. Your description of the glowing terms of the 1962 Mercury Monterey and how it looked in person were certainly different. 🙂 I liked how you told about your Aunt Clara’s lead foot. I could sympathize with the gas gauge not working in the Newport because that was another one of the quirky issues with my Buick Regal. The shop (that I still go to) said at the time “just like your mushy horn pad problem, if we pull the front end apart, it still may not alleviate the problem and it’s not a recall item, so just keep a record of when you got gas in your glove compartment. So, I had a small spiral notebook and pen and recorded when I filled up and did so for years.

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  7. It is interesting how these things shift and your post caused me to reflect and ponder. I can still remember as a little boy watching my grandmother mash cranberries. Thanks for another great post.

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  8. It’s nice to have those memories…..but also nice to start new traditions. I miss our big family dinners on the farm, with everyone home and grandparents and young nieces and nephews. Most times we had 17 at the table but one year 21 as my brother brought strays….no problem….there was always an overflow table in the kitchen as the dining room table only seated 12. All crammed into a small old white farmhouse…what fun times and good conversation we had. Looking back, what a lot of work for my mother, but she never ever complained. I was often working so all I had to do was show up. Young married couples wanting to have Thanksgiving in their own homes, may be grateful not to have to travel, until they realize how much work it can be to put on a big meal like that, then they might miss going to the in-laws, even if they do have to eat two turkey dinners in one day! I think Thanksgiving is a bigger holiday in the US than in Canada…your airports are always so crowded, but then ours is in mid-Oct and people aren’t really in the holiday spirit yet.

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      • Haha, I imagine there are guys who do what they want with their cars and spend all they want to on them – I suspect most of them are either divorced or are well-enough off that they have wives who spend all they want on their own interests too. We try to be a little more collaborative about those kinds of things at our house.

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    • The big traditional meal is definitely a lot of work. As a postscript, we didn’t get out of doing Thanksgiving completely. Our oldest could not get back until Saturday, and we ended up making a Thanksgiving-Lite dinner on Sunday. It was still a bit of a production. But a tasty one.

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  9. Good timing for me on this one, J.P. Our Thanksgiving would’ve been just with my daughter and son-in-law this year were it not for a long-distance visit from my wife’s sister and husband. Regardless, it was perhaps the first time we haven’t been a part of a full reunion with either my wife’s family or mine. Christmas dinner will be hosted by my daughter and son-in-law; just the four of us. We’re in that interim period where we’re still willing to host but the number of guests is dwindling. Before we know it we’ll always be the guests at someone else’s house. Time marches on!

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  10. Early in our marriage, my wife and I took the kids to as many as three separate celebrations on the same day (my wife’s parents were divorced). That got old fast and we often went out of town for a Christmas skiing vacation.

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