Creating new traditions

Last week marked the first time in my life that I did not go home for Thanksgiving dinner.

This was a very different Thanksgiving for me. Instead of a two-hour drive, home is now 1,200 miles and a $325 round-trip plane ticket away. Consequently, I am choosing my trips home more carefully. Like many students, Thanksgiving break did not fit into my budget this year.

The small window of opportunity often limits travel plans for students who live out of state, or even out of the country. I was one of the few students who chose to stick around Bloomington for a celebration that is almost purely American in history and in scope. Left to my own devices in Bloomington, I had to create my own traditions. Many of the changes seemed positive at first glance.

Instead of listening to (and participating in) the traditional annual family arguments, I slept until 9 a.m. Instead of sitting around a large table with my parents, my three siblings and my two nephews eating turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes, I watched movies on television and read books while listening to music. Instead of wondering how soon dinner would be finished so I could escape the chaos, I found myself yearning to stretch the day out and make it even longer. And instead of playing cards after dinner while somewhat tipsy, I found myself at a friend’s apartment drinking wine and having an enjoyable conversation about post-World War II European politics.

But despite this pleasant experience, breaking from my family traditions wasn’t easy. Thanksgiving is my mother’s favorite holiday of the year. She starts preparation for the dinner two weeks in advance. I remember calling her the first week of November, and while I was barely aware November had started, she was already preparing the yams.

I found myself missing her cooking: there is no substitute for Mom’s pumpkin pudding. Even after all of us kids grew up, we fought over who got to lick the bowl she made the pudding in. There is also no substitute for Mom’s stuffing — so popular that she’s forced to prepare several baking pans full in order to have enough. There is never any leftover stuffing to enjoy Friday, no matter how much she makes. I also found myself missing the day after Thanksgiving — a day filled with eating roast turkey sandwiches, going shopping and the traditional post-Thanksgiving Chinese food dinner.

Instead, I found myself in my office trying to figure out why I couldn’t solve a statistics problem. It’s not quite a fair trade-off, no matter how you do the calculation.

There is an up side to being on campus during Thanksgiving break. Not once did I have a problem finding a parking spot. I was also able to drive across town without the tremendous traffic hassle that typifies Bloomington when everybody is still around town. I was able to get some Christmas shopping done during the break. I went out to the west side of town for the first time in two months, visited Lowe’s and found my father’s Christmas present. (I’d tell you what it is, but I don’t want to spoil his surprise.)

As students, part of our education is becoming independent, even at holidays. But it doesn’t have to be a sudden break. This Thanksgiving, I enjoyed creating my own traditions, but I’m not ready to leave behind the traditions of my childhood.

I’m still searching for the presents for my siblings and nephews. I need to ship them home so they’ll be waiting under the tree for another family tradition: opening our presents on Christmas Eve.

I will be there for that tradition.

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