Thanksgiving 2019: the turkey and other family traditions

Published 8:49 am Friday, November 22, 2019

By William H. Baker


Last week, it was “Friendsgiving,” a relatively new trend that is connected with thoughts about “Thanksgiving,” a tradition that we trace back to the Pilgrims , some 400 years ago.

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The memories of Thanksgiving in our family lives, in our neighborhoods, and in the bigger picture are with us throughout life. And as those memories are shared with our children and grandchildren, we are helping to extend the traditions that are important to us and to future generations.

Traditionally, this holiday has been observed as a tribute to the first settlers and their meal with the Native Americans. Also, it has been a day set aside for family get-together and for giving thanks.

In earlier times, our forefathers would have focused on thanksgiving for the harvest of crops and for the food they were able to provide from the farms they worked. And then as now, attention was on the Thanksgiving meal.

As a child during the years of the Great Depression, I recall the excitement of holiday and the opportunity for a few days away from school with family and visiting relatives. We lived on a farm and produced almost everything needed for the meal, including turkeys during several of those childhood years.

If we did not have turkeys available on the farm, then chicken was substituted as the main dish with country ham offered as a second choice.

Like most families in the tri-state area I suppose, we enjoyed traditional foods that usually included turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing, gravy, cranberry sauce, corn, sweet potatoes and possibly both cornbread and biscuits. We usually had pie or cake as dessert, but not pumpkin or pecan pies in my youth.

I always associated cranberries or cranberry sauce as a traditional part of the feast. But last year, I learned that a friend who also grew up here in the Cumberland Gap area never associated cranberries with Thanksgiving. A reminder that the meals differ between families and between cultures; they have their own traditions.

There are Thanksgiving traditions besides the meal. Many churches, individually or as a community of churches, offer a special holiday service centered on giving thanks to God. Many families, at the main meal, will allow each person at the table to express thanks in a very personal way. Some family members make it a part of the ritual to travel back home on this important weekend to be with family and to renew their memories of days gone by.

Cities and towns may focus on festivals or parades. Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which started almost a hundred years ago, is the most notable of those.

Thanksgiving is a good time to offer help to people who might not be as lucky as you. Some volunteer to provide food or to serve at homeless shelters or for senior citizens, others may donate money, and others participate in canned food drives. Special ways to extend the spirit of thanksgiving in your neighborhood.

William H. Baker is a Claiborne County native and former Middlesboro resident. Email: