Thursday, November 12, 2009

Creating New Traditions

A few years ago I did a series of interviews on television and radio on this topic. I was surprised how many men were interested in the topic, too. First, all of you have your own ideas based on your families. It's the kind of creativity that may need just a small candle light to ignite it. If you've been thinking of something and haven't gotten around to do it, maybe the time is now.

I have always regretted not keeping a holiday log. How simple it would have been to jot down the menu, a recipe or two, and most importantly, who were the guests that year. We spend time these days trying to recreate moments that would have taken just a few to record. One of my favorite gifts for new homeowners in such a log. It doesn't have to be an expensive one. There are such things, but one can make it as simple as a notebook. However, the leather bounds do have a way of not getting lost or misplaced. If you go overboard, the project is likely to be too demanding to keep going year after year. You can find some great journals at sites such as Etsy, Jenni Bick Bookbinding, or Rustico.

I was interested in the comment about having Thanksgiving in one's own home for the first time, rather than bundling up little ones and heading to grandmother's house. Both are marvelous experiences. But if this year, the torch is being passed to your table, it's a great time to start a new tradition and keep some of the beloved ones, too. We Americans move around a lot--and it means that many of us are putting down new roots every few years. How comforting to have a cutting from a previous root to plant in a new community.

One recent year, I was separated from my family on Thanksgiving Day. My dear friend Ann invited me to her apartment. I met old friends and made a few new ones. Ann and her family have spent holidays with us over the years. It wasn't at all like being "alone." My dad always used to say it wasn't Thanksgiving unless we had at least two new people at the table. He did his best to keep that faith, I must say. Dear Kim has spent a few holidays with us recently because she had to put her wings down as a result of a horse riding accident. The moral of this story is that the holidays are for good cheer with those we love and those who love to spend time with us.

When creating new traditions, it would be a nice idea to get input from the whole family. Tom, at Ann's, creates the place cards. It was his idea as a little guy and has continued for this college student. And dad can do more than carve the turkey or the roast. As I suggested, men I've talked to want their own part of the festivities. And how many men do we have in the kitchen these days? Well, there's one in my house.

Would love to have you share your new traditions, as well as the ways you keep the holidays in your family. And best of all, how a new tradition blends beautifully with the time-honored ways we celebrate. My friend Suzy, who now lives in Mexico, recalls every Thanksgiving of seeing the parade in our New York offices of Victoria. We watch it on television now, wherever we are, and remember what it was like being eyeball-to-eyeball with those balloons. Suzy writes an email from Mexico--and it's like having her with us--an old tradition blends with a new one. And while I wouldn't have missed the parade for anything when we opened our offices to dozens of people and their kids, I enjoy not getting up at five in the morning to do it.

Happy to have so many good comments; you are all sharing such heartfelt thoughts and ideas. It is exactly what should be happening--Bravo.


  1. Every Thanksgiving morning, my father (who ruled over the kitchen on rare occasions, having been an Army cook!) would holler down the hall "good morning, Glory!" Then, he'd yell: "Rise and shine!" Then, inevitable, he'd add: "Put clean socks on your tootsies, Karen; we've got to stuff that turkey!" I always laughed, as did he.
    Dad's been gone over a decade, but when my kids were home, I'd holler exactly the same things, making them giggle at the thought of using their feet to stuff the bird.
    These days, in my empty nest, I still put on clean socks each Thanksgiving morning in silly tribute, and, to the sounds of the Macy's parade in the background, make the stuffing he loved so much. I can see Dad smiling down as I hum along with the marching bands and stuff that bird.

  2. PS--I forgot to sign my name, but the above is from Karen Marline in tribute to my dad, Charlie!
    Karen M.

  3. Dear Nancy: Your blog column on traditions brought a flood of memories to mind. My paternal grandmother's Thanksgiving dinners are among them. Wow! We feasted on those occasions like you wouldn't believe. Grandma had one of those huge, old-fashioned black iron woodburning stoves. How she ever baked her mouthwatering apple pies and turkey in that monstrosity is beyond my imagination. Her giblet stuffing continues to be part of our holiday dinner. It just wouldn't be Thanksgiving without it. It's mouthwatering and delicious. I don't have Grandma's burgundy colored velvet couch but it's still there in my memory just as her hugs and twinkling blue eyes are there. Thanks for the memories and I wish you and your family an absolutely wonderful Thanksgiving! Sincerely, Susan from

  4. My Thanksgiving always begins with the Macy's Day Parade as a backdrop to cooking. And Thanksgiving always ends with a viewing of both versions of Miracle on 34th St. in the quietude of the livingroom in the dark.


  5. I am afraid this will mark me as eccentric, but my favorite and most peaceful Thanksgiving was spend alone in a small studio apartment. I lived in a city then, and my job kept me from traveling to my home town for the holiday.

    I took great pains to treat myself to a small bottle of wine, a Cornish hen, dressing, sweet potatoes, cornbread and green beans with cranberry relish. I stocked up on books at the library. The one I chose to settle down with in the afternoon was Colette's "Claudine at School."

    At around 4 p.m. I found myself craving chocolate and there was none to be found in my cupboards. But I had eggs and I had had butter and cocoa and vanilla and I cobbled together a chocolate souffle that was certainly the best I've ever made. So just as the light was fading outside, I was drawing my curtains and settling down with a small souffle.

    Now I always want chocolate when I read Colette.


  6. How I loved all your wonderful memories and traditions. I know we each have our own set of traditions from our childhood--mine are so vivid and now a part of who I have become. I try continue to keep alive the spirit of family closeness and fun with my children and grandchildren, so we are now making new unforgettable memories for them to carry in their hearts.

    I have four exceptional grandchildren (don't we all) 23, 21, 6 and 3. Since I love creating some magical times for them, our holidays and birthdays are adventures. It has never been lost on them, even the small ones, that we have candles on the table, a special scene as a centerpiece, some elegant and some fun. With the two youngest, we make sure to take pictures of them in Santa hats on Thanksgiving weekend. It's hard to get pictures between the giggling and wiggling. Their mother uses one of the pictures in her calendar she makes for each of us for the next year. My grandchildren are used to their grandmother dressing them up for our photo sessions.

    When she was about 12 years old, Dani, my granddaughter, found her mother's wedding dress in the closet. She wanted to try it on and even though it was too long, it fit her. As a Christmas surprise for their mother, we posed Dani and her brother in a wedding photo. Dani was sitting in my grandmother's Eastlake chair and her brother was standing by the chair wearing a dress shirt belonging to his grandfather along with a Stetson western hat. He looked so handsome and she was beautiful. As an added prop he had his grandfather's shotgun. We printed them in sepia and they kept the surprise until Christmas Eve. Their mother loved the picture and it now hangs on her living room wall.

    In our home the first Christmas decoration that comes out of the box is Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus lovingly arranged. Our nativity set is from our first year of marriage. However I am not sure how the tiny lamb with the slender legs has survived all these years. Now the girls are following this same tradition with their families.

    Thanksgiving is our time to appreciate each other and reach out to others. Logan, the six year old, is very sensitive to others and the two of us talk about how we can share what we have. What a joy these children have become.

    Karen Marline, thank you for your comments earlier. Our standing joke is how many adoptive kids I have thanks to our youngest daughter. It started when I was a band Mom and we all just shared each other's kids. I love your posts and you inspire me with your Victorian spirit.

    Have a blessed Thanksgiving, Jean

  7. Coming from a half Germany, half Iranian household Halloween and Thanksgiving were not celebrated at our home. When I moved with my husband to the United States we got caught up in the spirit of the festivities and now have made both occasions times to decorate the home and enjoy the setting and food with friends and family.

    I am always thankful that I have been able to pass along old and new traditions to my children.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  8. @Mimi: For me, reading Colette IS chocolate. No one appreciated a well-prepared meal more than Colette. She often had her lunch or dinner sent from the elegant restaurant near her apartment in Paris. Your comments should be an inspiration to all of us to appreciate the good things in life in all circumstances. Fixing a lovely holiday meal is like arranging flowers--even if you are the only one to enjoy them.

    Back to Colette: One of the highlights of my editorial career was the visit I made to Colette's childhood home in Burgundy. Seeing her name scratched in a pane of glass was so touching. The young writer making her mark already. The family who owned the home was very gracious and invited us to lunch. The drive from Paris had been magical. It was the first of May and the French celebrate a long ago queen with lily of the valley. That special flower was on my breakfast tray at the hotel. And as we drove, along the road, children sold little bundles. We bought a flat to bring to our hosts. There was a gentle rain and by the time we arrived at the house, the rain had stopped and the garden was glistening. When I look back, it is almost as if the event wasn't real. I see it in slow motion, savoring every second. But it was real--and I will never forget it. When I am in Westchester, a neighbor (interestingly enough, an Iowan), has a patch of lily of the valley that is in bloom on May 1. I am always invited to pick as much as I want. I am prudent, but it's a little ritual that I, alone, savor.


  9. Mimi,

    Your story of your lone and lovely holiday touched a chord in me. It is poetry. I really only want people in my life who although are not necessary alone, can BE alone if they have to and still live a good life. Lovely, lovely story. And thank you Nancy for your blog so that we can share these things.


  10. Oh, Nancy, what riches! Both the visit to Colette's home and the lily of the valley ritual. I envy you the first and share with you the second, as I have a patch of lily of the valley just outside my kitchen door. It blooms later here, but the ritual is the same.

    Sidonie-Gabrielle those words role off the tongue, especially in French. Music!

    Donna, thank you. How very kind of you. I took a peak at your blog and love it. I must become a follower!

  11. Firstly, Nancy, merci mille fois for your story about your Colette encounter. What a mystical, marvelous tale!
    Secondly, Dear Jean: Thanks for your kind comments. I actually AM adopted, so your comments have all the more meaning! Please consider coming over to "visit" many other Victoria-loving kindred spirits on the Yahoo chat room I moderate: Return to Loveliness. It's a "closed" salon (keeps out the cranks), but you're most genuinely invited. Others here, please consider this an invitation, too. Our discussions center around Victoria and what it means to us; how we keep the spirit of the original Victoria magazine alive in our lives...
    Warmly, Karen Marline

  12. I just love reading your posts, Nancy. It's like getting a new Victoria regularly... only in bite-sized pieces that are easy to absorb. And I am loving the comments... very "Reader to Reader." I would have loved to hear your radio interviews... I would have been very interested in the men's responses. I know my husband is very tied to tradition in many ways, but he also finds the new ones we have created together very special. Your comment about spending time trying to recreate moments is so insightful. Don't we do that so often? A journal/holiday log would be a fantastic thing to pull out at holidays for family to look through. I can just hear the comments, "Oh, remember when we had that...yum. Or, that turkey was a disaster. Or, wasn't it great having Uncle Charlie with us that year?" We do a lot of videotaping at holidays, but not all that much on Thanksgiving. I would love to have this written record... wish I had one from my childhood. I may try to think back through them and create one. One of the treasures I have is my grandmother's cookbook, throughout which there are handwritten notes about which dishes work well with others, which do not, how hot you really need your oven, family likes and dislikes, etc. It is so special because it brings to mind those special times we all gathered at her home as a family.

    My husband is one who loves to be in the kitchen, too. Each year at Thanksgiving he cooks the turkey, and we make the dressing together (can you guess I'm from the south... no stuffing here.) He loves to putter around in the kitchen and is a very, very good cook. His specialty right now is pizza with homemade crust and freshly baked breads of all sorts... not so great for the waistline, but oh so yummy. Our kitchen is often the gathering spot for the five of us.

    Oh, and I loved your description of the Colette trip. I can visualize just what you described. It's what makes me determined to get to the French countryside someday.