Rule #15: Create Uncomfortable Thanksgiving Traditions

Let your children know what Thanksgiving is really about: Giving thanks that it only happens once a year.

Let your children know what Thanksgiving is really about: Giving thanks that it only happens once a year.

Thanksgiving is so much more than canned cranberry sauce, trousers with stretch waistbands, and poly-cotton sweaters displaying bronzed leaves and horses. Granted, these are holy and otherwise good. But the great American holiday is also about creating family traditions.

If your brood lacks holiday customs, now is the time to launch a few. As always, you’ll want to make sure that these traditions aren’t just random ways to make children feel good about themselves by providing a lifetime of glossy memories; instead, the traditions should teach some life lessons while passing along some of your core values.

Discomfort + Shame = Thanksgiving Cheer

It’s so easy to mimic your goody-two-shoes neighbor’s tradition of watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, playing family touch-football games, and gathering folks around the table to break bread and eat smoked turkey. But if every family has the same tradition, how can they possible feel special?

With that in mind, here are 5 suggestions to incorporate into your Thanksgiving routine this year:

Invite a nervous, twitchy, and slightly dangerous stranger to dinner.

1. Have him talk about times when he ran afoul of the law, especially instances that involved gunplay and being on the lam. Encourage him to pass out just after drinking his eleventh vodka and tonic. (Family lesson learned: “abject fear,” “how to detect creepy dudes on the street.”)

Have your children participate in an epic grudge match called “Earn the Drumstick.”

Your dog will typically beat your children to the bone. This will give them something to look forward to if they make it to the table next year: Redemption.

Your dog will typically beat your children to the bone. This will lead to a deeper appreciation of meals you provide on the other 364 days of the year.

2. Once played in medieval England among street ruffians and prostitutes, this game pits your children against the family dog that hasn’t eaten in several days. Form a circle around the dog and give it the prize turkey drumstick dripping with warm meat. Then each child has to wrestle away the drumstick from the pooch. If they’re unsuccessful, the child doesn’t eat. (Family lesson learned: “survival,” “destitution,” and a “cruel world pecking order.”)

Keep the vittles warm with the time-honored “Hide the Stuffing.”

3. Cold or lukewarm stuffing is a bummer. Use one of grandpa’s oversized diapers and place it on your child, noting that it brings good luck for the holiday season. Roughly three hours before dinner, place all the stuffing inside the diaper’s pouch and instruct the child to sit still in a corner muttering to himself. He’ll feel proud that you’ve chosen him to keep an essential part of dinner warm. (Family lesson learned: “honor” and “thermodynamics.”)

Stage a family protest in front of a neighbor’s house.

4. The elements of democracy can never stray too far from any Thanksgiving celebration. That’s why it’s important for your family to wage a protest—no matter how unfounded—to show how appreciative you are to live freely (plus, it’s a great way to kill time before the turkey is done). The things you’re protesting don’t matter all that much; it’s just important that you wage your gripe as a family by making placards and acting all angry and offended. Possible subjects of protest include: cruelty to yams and the overuse of oven mitts. (Family lessons learned: “making an ass of yourself for a good cause.”)

Play the Scottish game “Cheat the Squirrel.”

5. Don’t forget to incorporate a little fun into those traditions! Nothing is more enjoyable than a long-forgotten Scottish game that requires children to run through the neighborhood with small spades digging up acorns and assorted nuts that squirrels have painstakingly buried for the winter. It literally can take hours or days to find even several nuts. Each child brings home a satchel of nuts that will be boiled, made into mush, and spread on dark, seed-filled bread that children generally despise. Instead of pumpkin or pecan pie, your children eat this “treat” after the meal. (Family lesson learned: “dessert rip-off” and “Old Uncle Gordon is a giant a-hole for suggesting this dumb tradition.”)

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Shell January 14, 2009 at 5:02 pm

One year, my mother, feeling very giving, invited her single friend, masseuse”Bob” (who I called “scary stranger /possible psycho killer Bob”) to Thanskgiving dinner. He brought a bottle of exotic wine. We all drank it and immediately felt overwhelmed with fatigue, falling into comma like states…all of us passed out around the room. All of us, that is, except for the Bob who likely poisoned us with his wine and then robbed the house bare while we slept. Of course, my mother denies him any wrongdoing, insisting that we all had a toxic amount of tryptophan from eating too much turkey. Ummm, ok. I’d say that was an uncomfortable thanksgiving tradition. Way to go mom!


sailor February 19, 2010 at 9:41 pm

there is always my familys time honored tradition of suburban squirrel hunting. nothing like alcohol, triptophan and firearms that all combind in one residential neighborhood back yard, the cops love us this day of the year.


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