Since 1994, Thanksgiving for my family has meant trekking through the winding roads of the Sierras for opening day at Heavenly Ski Resort in South Lake Tahoe. We all crowd into my parent’s van, my dad at the wheel, and leave late Wednesday evening to get a head-start on the long weekend.
Upon moving to California in the early 90’s, my brothers and I immediately took to skiing. Although my parents don’t ski, we started an annual family tradition of renting a cabin up in the mountains to house all six of us (plus any stray friends that showed up). While we hit the slopes, my parents hit the nickel slots at Bill’s casino.
In 1997, my parents bought a quaint cabin amid towering pines in South Lake Tahoe, with a steep gabled roof and a totally 70’s interior. From its thick red shag carpet to faux wood paneling, this place was a real throwback to the days of bell-bottoms and platform shoes. Thanksgiving at the “Macabenta Manor” in Tahoe became an instant tradition among our friends, with my parents playing host to a houseful of rowdy twenty-somethings. We’ve been known to stuff as many as 25 people in this three bedroom/two bath. Everyone pitched in with the chores, from grocery shopping to doing the laundry, and making sure the place was spic-and-span before we left.
All hands were on deck for Thanksgiving dinner preparations. Our meal was usually casual – no sit down dinners or fancy silverware here – but always substantial, sometimes consisting of store-bought turkey complemented by a never-ending stream of mama’s home cookin’, and of course, steamed rice. C’mon… what true-blooded Pinoy in their right mind would ever serve meat without rice?
Having been born and raised in the Philippines, Thanksgiving Dinners weren’t part of my family’s tradition. It is, after all, a specifically “American” holiday. (Okay, so other countries have their own versions of thanksgiving and fall harvest celebrations, but in the United States, we’re specifically talking about the holiday begun by the Pilgrims in 1621 and declared official by Abraham Lincoln in 1863).
Even after moving to the United States, we didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving with the same flourish that we did Easter and Christmas. It was just another three-day weekend, another reason to get together with family and friends for a fabulous feast, and for my brothers to raucously watch every conceivable sporting event on television.
After I got married, Thanksgiving took on new meaning, although it no longer involved an annual ski trip to Tahoe. But that’s what happens when you have a life partner – where they overlap, your own customs and traditions either supersede or yield to those of your spouse, or elements of both are incorporated to create new ones.
Fortunately, my new Thanksgiving tradition – this time flying up to visit with my husband’s family in Seattle – still includes a never-ending stream of home cookin’, this time courtesy of my Welsh/English/German in-laws, with mashed potatoes standing in for steamed rice. From mom Judi’s plump juicy turkey to dad Gary’s from-scratch apple pies to sis Jane’s super-sweet baklava, there’s plenty to be thankful for at the Dunham dinner table.
Sometimes, I do miss the sardine-tight Thanksgiving weekends with my family at the cabin, but I’m happy to be starting new traditions with my husband. So as we celebrate the season of giving thanks (and the beginning of the holiday shopping extravaganza), let’s not forget that this celebration, and many others throughout the year, is all about being with family and friends.