Last week, as we headed away for Thanksgiving, I decided to re-read Bruce Feiler’s masterpiece, The Secrets of Happy Families.
There was one chapter on rituals that had me day-dreaming (the kind of thinking I do when I need to put the book down in order to get lost in thought for a while). The section was was about Thanksgiving and honed in on Marshall and Sarah Duke’s house, where Thanksgiving for the past thirty years has been a four day weekend that they host. The weekend begins on Tuesday night when the family gathers and eats turkey sandwiches. On Wednesday night they eat spaghetti and everyone paints moustaches on their faces. On Thursday they hide cans of pumpkin sauce and green beans and a frozen turkey and everyone “hunts” for the food like the pilgrims did. On Friday, they eat Thanksgiving dinner. And all weekend long they have a Color War competition. The winning team gets a plastic duck.
I have so many questions about their rituals, but Marshall Duke seems to have created these in order to have family traditions. He shared that when his grandchildren ask if they have to do this one or that one in this particular way – Marshall’s answer is always the same, “Yep. Gotta do it. Why? Because rituals have to be created. We can’t sit back and hope they’ll happen. We have to go out and make them happen.”
This year, I decided to create some myself. It was a small-ish crew so we tried two new things that I intend to incorporate into future Thanksgivings: First, I had every person write down ten specific things they felt most grateful for between last Thanksgiving and this one. I mixed up everyone’s lists and then everyone had to guess who wrote each of the gratitudes shared.
Over dessert (And I think this was my favorite): Everyone had to make a list of seven people that they felt particularly grateful to for one reason or another this year and that couldn’t include family. And then share the why.
Marshall Duke’s seemed sillier and more fun (inspiration for future years), but our new traditions definitely shifted the dinner conversation from Fantasy Football to Thanksgiving this year and for that alone – I felt incredibly grateful!
Soulfully yours,
Rabbi Dana Saroken

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