When Thanksgiving Traditions Change


If you page through the dozens of photo books in my parents’ house, each and every one contains at least one picture of my family gathered around the Thanksgiving table. For me, that is 31 years worth of turkey and pumpkin pie documented by variously sized and colored photographs. However, this year, my face won’t be in the annual Thanksgiving photo, and my streak of thankful holidays with my family will be broken.

Thanksgiving at Grandma’s house 1994. I’m the one with the cheese-ball grin and the on-point bangs.

Forming Traditions

I am beyond lucky that I have all of these memories of stuffing myself throughout the decades with my family by my side. Each and every year I was put to work in my grandma’s kitchen to help pull together dinner by 6 p.m. I vividly remember standing at the kitchen counter, helping my grandma make homemade whipped cream and stirring the gigantic pot of sauerkraut (more on this strange tradition later). As I got older, and more stable with kitchen utensils, I was put in charge of tasks like making mashed potatoes and basting the turkey.

Thanksgiving 1998. Check out that awesome sweater vest!

Noticing Changes

However, time is a funny thing when you’re young. You don’t see things are changing right before your eyes until they are suddenly different. As my grandparents aged, the task of making the most epic meal of the year became more daunting for my grandma. Slowly, she began to give tasks away to ease the burden but always held on to making the “Hubbard” squash and pies. Eventually my mom took over the position of hostess with me as her sous chef. The first year we changed locations was emotionally draining, but with each passing Thanksgiving, it became more commonplace, and we settled into a new routine.

Thanksgiving 2012

Last year things were completely turned upside down when a life-changing fall made it so my grandparents couldn’t attend Thanksgiving dinner. Suddenly everything was different again. There wasn’t homemade pie. The squash wasn’t nearly as good as it had been before. We were all devastated, but through the guilt and sadness, my mom and I managed to cook a feast to feed 20 even though it was only 5 (and a half) of us at the table.

My daughter’s first Thanksgiving in 2015

Making Choices

I know that I am fully #blessed that I get to spend every single Thanksgiving with my family. Honestly, it’s only worked that way because my husband is a native Brazilian. Needless to say, celebrating the Pilgrims at home with my American family wasn’t really an issue until this year.

My husband’s extended families all reside in Brazil, which means we rarely get to see them in person. As in I’ve only been to Brazil one time, and that was ten years ago. The hands of time don’t stop ticking just because you live on another continent, so there are also aging grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins just south of the equator, hoping we’ll pop in for a visit. This year, we made a commitment to go visit Brazil, but heartbreakingly for me, we’re going over Thanksgiving.  

I have to admit that I’m feeling very mixed emotions about this trip. While on one hand I am excited to travel and have our daughter spend time with her great-grandparents, I am equally saddened that I won’t be able to be with my family for the one holiday that has always been so consistent for us. I’ve gotten used to switching family sides for Christmas and Easter, but Thanksgiving has always been with my family and losing that hurts. I know this is just how time works, and change is a good thing. This year, instead of stuffing myself on turkey and pie, I’ll be having picanha and flan.

Granny’s Sauerkraut

My absolute favorite part of our Thanksgiving meal is my great grandma’s sauerkraut. Now I know what you’re thinking: “German food has zero place on my table during Thanksgiving, ‘Merica!” Well, you’re wrong because this is amazing. If you think you don’t like sauerkraut, just hear me out on this one because it’s not even close to the store-bought stuff you put on sausages.

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