Our family has, in spite of our quaintness, some of the same traditions at Thanksgiving as everyone else. We generally have eaten the usual things everyone does (except for myself and my daughters – vegetarian, no turkey for us.) My mom always spent days preparing the meal- stuffing and green bean casserole from scratch, “smashed” potatoes, home made pies and some sweet potato casserole that looked like maybe you shouldn’t eat it- but it tasted fine.
I usually have brought my home made bread, my brother has made one of his famous salads, there would be a big pot of beans, and a pot of coffee on, plenty of fresh brewed iced tea.
My mom was into making a pretty table, with her own flower arrangements from her garden, pretty napkins and table cloth, and we often ate on the fiesta ware that had been my great grandmother’s.
Football watching is sometimes involved.
There is a lot of banter and laughter during our family gatherings. We are a family of eccentrics and sometimes it’s best there are no guests around who might freak out at some of the crazy things we say. We think we are hilarious and clever, however. There is always the unexpected, too; sudden dancing, discussion of someone’s latest bizarre obsession, an interesting debate, a practical joke, a physical attack followed by everyone else moving the furniture for a wrestling match, over my mom’s objections. Or the entertainment might be something more expected like a jolly rendition of the family song (“Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd) or someone playing guitar or telling a crazy (true) story. If we got out of hand, my mom would pinch us and pull our hair, which we enjoyed, (kind of.)
Some of us (four, I think) have been to drug rehab in our youth, where our whole family learned a lot of great stuff that not only healed us and helped us be the awesome, tight family that we are now, but it gave us some traditions we cherish, like “Gratefuls and Wishes.” At the rehab center they started every day with this, and we took it up as a family tradition, making it our own over time.
My mom, when she lived in town, and when most of us kids were young adults, used to have a big Sunday breakfast every week that was a standing invitation to everyone we knew. We never knew exactly who would show up. These were great fun. And we did the “Gratefuls and Wishes” at the end of the meal.
Now the family is spread out geographically a little bit more, and we have narrowed the “Gratefuls and Wishes “ to Thanksgiving, and people’s birthdays. *
Maybe you would like to try “Gratefuls and Wishes” with your family sometime.You don’t have to be a a bunch of weirdos like us to do them, just be y’all, the kind of family you are, and it should work just fine.
I have noticed that a lot of times those of us who complain the most about “having to do Gratefuls and Wishes” are the ones who get most long winded and eloquent with them. So ignore the complainers, I say. Do not be discouraged.
Doing this does feel funny at first, but then when you get used to it, it is easy to do, and even fun. Then you can really see its value in the bonding, love, and peace it brings about. It gets better over the years, and with practice.
Another plus is, especially in a family that has mixed religious preferences or none at all, it can work very well in some of the same ways family prayer does, or it can actually be one way to do family prayer. It’s flexible, and everyone gets to be themselves and be unified at the same time.
How to do Gratefuls and Wishes:
When everyone is finished eating, take turns speaking, going around the table in one direction.
The first person to start will say at least three things he or she is grateful for about this year.
Person number one now turns to the next person, (at his or her right, say).
To person number two, person number one says, “And, (name) I wish you a year of (say wishes here.) One might add, “and I love you,” or something like that if he or she feels like doing so.
Person number two says, “thank you,” then talks about his or her own gratitude and then wishes person number three a year of…. and so on, until all have spoken.
After we’ve gone around the table, we join hands, and even though most of us are not religious, we pray the Our Father to close, though sometimes we forget.
It is good to do these wishes because you have to think about that person’s life and what they most need, what struggles they are in now, and what they dream of and hope for, and you prayerfully wish your wishes for them, looking that loved one in the eyes.
For example: someone might say, “Tom, I know you really miss mom, and this has been such a hard year for you. I wish you a year of healing and finding your way again, and knowing Mom loves you and that God is with you.”
One might say, “Jamie, I know you have really been stressing about your thesis. So I wish you a year of peace, confidence, and success! I know you can do it!”
Sometimes we have to remind someone they can’t wish something for the other person that sounds like, “I wish you would straighten up and fly right.”
“Nope! Ha ha, start over. It has to be a selfless wish! ”
In the treatment center where one of us learned to do this, the person speaking held the “Big Book” (the AA book) and passed it along to the next person when he/she finished speaking. We did this for a long time but it kind of faded out after a few years.
Some kind of object for the speaker to hold and pass on, symbolic or not, is good for keeping little ones from jumping out of turn and to keep them focussed. It also underlines the unity and values of the particular family, to use something meaningful like the Big Book, or, for a devout Christian family, the Bible or a crucifix, perhaps. Maybe you have something that would make sense in your own family. Otherwise, it seems fine to do without, and just turn to the next person when you are ready to speak to them.
We have found that new people and visitors take to this nicely with only a little embarrassment. Their gratefuls and wishes may be less personal because they don’t know anybody and/or have never done this before but that is OK. We always try to offer an accepting environment and if a visitor is really uncomfortable they can always skip it and just listen, though they will often chime in after all once they see how it goes.
After we are finished with Gratefuls and Wishes, the banter, and what my mom called “witty repartee,” and the teasing, jokes, or heated debates, or poetry reading, or comical dancing, and dogs barking, begin again.
This family ritual might have a slow start sometimes, with some people complaining and making fun, but in the end, everyone feels loved, and we feel a greater sense of our unity. It helps us feel close to the members of our family we have lost, as well.
It gives us a sense of continuity even or especially in times of hardship, and a way to celebrate together all our reasons to be happy.
Gratefuls and Wishes remind us that we like ourselves as a family, and that we love each other.
Things like that are good to remember, and to be grateful for.
- The way we do “gratefuls and wishes” for a birthday, is that everyone says what they are grateful for about the birthday person, and then wishes him or her a year of whatever.