Family Holiday Traditions: Set an Extra Place at the Table

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  I love the fact that no gifts are expected and I get the opportunity to visit with family in a relaxed setting…you know before the hustle and bustle of Christmas preparations begin.

I come from a large family.  I am one of five children.  And growing up, we spent Thanksgiving with my mom’s side of the family.  Which could add up to, give or take, forty people.


Like most families, we have a few traditions that make the holiday special.

One unique tradition I have is to make my own butter.  It started in fourth grade when my Girl Scout troop leader taught me.  You simply put heavy whipping cream in a mason jar and shake until the butter and the buttermilk separate, and add salt.  It takes quite a while, so I pass the jar around when my hands get tired. Some of my siblings grumble when it’s their turn, but I know they love the taste of freshly made butter.

Our extended family members contribute to the Thanksgiving spread as well. We have some staples that must be present: stuffing, mashed potatoes, yams, cranberry sauce, and turkey of course. But there is always room for new recipes.  (This year I am excited to try this sweet potato casserole recipe from Lets Create the Sweet Life.  Not only does it look delicious, its healthy.)

But my favorite family tradition is our openness to include guests in our celebration.   Everyone is welcome at our table.  And throughout the years, various guests have graced us with their presence, thus enriching our holiday.

One year, my younger brother Fred invited his South Korean friend from college who had no where to go for the holiday weekend.  I remember my younger cousins being fascinated by his accent. (I personally loved his fanny pack.)

My dear friend Susan and her mother came one year.  They were living in NJ at the time, away from their extended family in Kentucky.  It was such a blessing to have them join us.

Another year, my Aunt Ginger invited one of her coworkers.   Joe, a middle aged Egyptian man, worked in the kitchen of the restaurant. She explained that Joe began working at the restaurant after 9/11 and he was not treated well by most of his coworkers.  “They would curse at him….and the boss would treat him childishly” she said.  Aunt Ginger on the other hand,  selflessly took Joe under her wing.

Since the restaurant was closed on Thanksgiving, and Joe’s only family in the US was his uncle, she asked him to join our celebration.  His presence enriched our holiday. At the time, I had recently studied Arabic in undergrad, so I loved the authentic opportunity to practice. While reflecting on the experience, Aunt Ginger said she didn’t hesitate, it was just the right thing to do.

Often when planning for the holiday we forget that there are many people who have no where to go.  This holiday season consider adding an extra seat at your table.  Think about including anyone who might be widowed, away from family,  or estranged. The experience may enrich the lives of you and your children.

“God sets the lonely in families” Psalm 68:6


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