Three RN&R contributors share their unique holiday traditions
Czech and balance
For most of my childhood, I felt adrift in my own culture. My parents fostered holiday traditions for my little brother and me that I remember fondly—carving pumpkins, putting up an advent calendar, baking holiday cookies—but they were rooted in us as Americans, not as Italian-Americans or Russian-Americans, the two pillars that are now intrinsic to my identity.
As a teenager, I vowed to fill in the gaps. I learned about genealogy. I traveled to Italy in high school, and I learned about Italian food specific to the region where my ancestors lived. I was invited to a Friendsgiving party in college and offered to bring tiramisu instead of my assigned cake. After that, Italian food became a part of my Thanksgiving menu—a menu that continues to change and shift.
I married my husband, Andrew, three years ago on Thanksgiving, on the medieval Charles Bridge in Prague. Our wedding date meant that we would always celebrate our anniversary on or around Thanksgiving, so it seemed only natural to incorporate our favorite treats from our wedding and honeymoon into our Thanksgiving menu. It’s become our tradition to have trdelníks, chlebícky and kolaches. Andrew also brings his own culture to the table: he is Mexican and, as he learned this year when he unexpectedly found his biological father on 23andMe, half Polish. Still, his taste for Mexican cuisine often wins out, and you can expect to find spices and peppers in most of our Thanksgiving dishes.
In this way, Andrew and I join our lives and our cultures, and forge new traditions. Food culture is complex—like Thanksgiving itself, much of what we celebrate about food is rooted in colonization—but it’s also simple. I feel the same about my own identity as I continue to explore and uncover it, bite by bite.
Breakfast block party
It started about 15 or 20 years ago—no one’s counting. A transplant from back East, I was single at the time and had few relatives nearby. My second cousin and her family own a sprawling home with a huge deck nestled in the desert in a remote stretch of the North Valleys. It’s accessible by dirt road and far enough away that I only see them once or twice a year. At the time, her husband, who annually purchased a chukar license, liked to hunt the birds over Thanksgiving break.
Like most people, my only morning plans on Thanksgiving involved the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and waiting around for dinner. So when I received an invitation to Thanksgiving breakfast that year, it seemed perfect.
But this was not the quiet, intimate family breakfast I expected. A crowd of people spilled out of the kitchen, through the French doors and onto the sunlit deck, where my cousin’s husband and his nephews cooked up the most delicious bacon I’ve ever eaten, along with ginormous pancakes, scrambled or fried eggs and ham slices, all atop the grill’s griddle surface or in pans right on the grates. A line of people swathed in fleece, eagerly holding paper plates and plastic forks, wrapped around the side of the house.
Inside the kitchen were huge canisters full of juice, carafes of hot coffee, and a pot of real hot chocolate simmering on the stove. A Bloody Mary bar took up one corner, and bottles of Champagne for mimosas, and Kahlua for coffees sat half empty on the counter.
As the years have passed, the breakfast has evolved. Neighbors now contribute dishes, and many of us, myself included, have added spouses and children to the mix. The event is one we look forward to each year, a meaningful tradition that is as much a part of the day for us as the turkey to come—which, to be honest, is now an afterthought.
Get a clue
Many families go to church every Christmas. Other, more secular families go to the ballet every year to see The Nutcracker. Some families go caroling. Some families stay home and watch Christmas classics like It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street. Other families watch newer entries in the Christmas canon, like A Christmas Story or Love Actually. Some less traditional families watch more outlandish movies with only tenuous connections to the holiday—like Die Hard or Gremlins.
But in my family, we watch Clue.
Clue is a 1985 comedy based on the board game of the same name. It is not set in December. Nobody learns a valuable lesson about kindness and charity. Santa Claus does not appear. It has nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas. So why do we watch it every year?
Because it’s just about the only movie we all agree on. The plot is the old chestnut about a group of strangers gathering for a party at a posh mansion, a murder occurs, and hilarity ensues. It’s a spoof of Agatha Christie-style murder mysteries, but I don’t think any of us kids knew that growing up. It was a box office bomb during its theatrical release—partly because of a dumb gimmick where the movie had alternate endings, and it was a roulette game which version theatergoers would see. But watching it at home on TV, VHS, DVD and streaming over the course of the last 30 years, you see all three endings.
Here’s the thing—it’s really funny. And funny in a variety of ways, from broad slapstick to clever wordplay, with fantastic, hammy performances from all-time comedy greats like Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn and Michael McKean. And it’s endlessly quotable. Conversations among my family almost always contain a quote or two—“flames on the side of my face” or “communism was just a red herring.” My brother and sister can recite the whole movie, beginning to end.
And somehow the jokes don’t get old. So, whenever we’re all together—which happens less and less often as the years go by—at some point, we end up watching Clue, and like the best family holiday, we all laugh.