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Thanksgiving Traditions 2021

Happy Thanksgiving from the Parks Foundation! As you prepare to celebrate with your friends and/or family, here are some yearly traditions from us at TMPF. We hope you have a happy and safe holiday, and feel free to use these traditions to create new ones of your own!


Brussels sprouts and bacon bits that Jennie made as part of her Minis-giving meal

Jennie Johnson

When most people think of Thanksgiving, they think about huge dinners with tons of food and the biggest turkey that you can buy. But sometimes with holiday stress, family travel or, maybe, if you’re celebrating a Thanksgiving far from home, you don’t really have the need to make a huge meal. Our tradition of Minis-giving has all of the fun and festivities of a regular Thanksgiving but pint sized! It’s perfect for a couple or a small group of friends but you can even do Minis-giving for large groups. Basically, Minis-giving is a fun twist on the traditional holiday; instead of making a large meal, you make tiny versions of all your favorite holiday foods. I like to make little pheasants or game hens for each guest in place of one large turkey. I also like to make tiny individual pumpkin and pecan pies and bite sized, stuffing muffins. It’s a super flexible tradition and I can get as fancy or intricate as I want with it! If I have lots of time, I can plan for a fun menu with lots of options but if I am having a busy holiday season, I can do a super simple meal instead. I could even make tiny decorations and place settings! With Minis-Giving, I can do custom meals for different dietary restrictions or for anyone in my family that’s picky. Plus, I don’t have to worry about a ton of leftovers and clean up. It can be as complicated or as simple as you want to make it. The best part about it is that even if you have guests, everyone is always impressed with the adorable tiny food. I started Minis-giving out of necessity but each year, I find it more and more fun to make the tiny foods and to start brainstorming ideas for our teeny meals as soon as Fall starts. This year, I am hoping to make cranberry lollipops and do a tiny baked potato bar using fingerling potatoes.

A plate of salmon with sauce and veggies on Rachel's patio table with her dog begging in the background

Rachel Carroll

My family isn't big on turkey, both the flavor and the labor intensive preparation, so rather than go through all the work for a meal we wouldn't really enjoy anyway we do seafood for Thanksgiving! Salmon is one of our favorite meals year round and creates the same ample leftovers for way less effort than a turkey. If it's a warm Thanksgiving on a given year, we'll grill it and eat outside to appreciate the last bit of nice weather too! If it's cold, then it goes into the oven, sometimes with bacon wrapped scallops as a second protein. All the same veggies and grains as your typical Thanksgiving meal, and even some different ones like broccoli and rice, work with our seafood Thanksgiving so for us it's just an all around better version of the traditional holiday feast.

Matt DeBray

Thanksgiving has always been a huge holiday for my family. Every year that I can remember there has been some massive gathering of my immediate family and my cousins, and every year it seems to get bigger and bigger and bigger. The one tradition that we’ve kept all these years is the post dinner game of cards. When I was still the age to be at the kids table, after we ate pie and helped clean up the table we would all be sent off to go cause our own brand of chaos while all the adults played cards. Now I’ve gotten to join the game and sometimes it feels more chaotic than when I was running around as a kid!

I honestly can’t tell you the name of the game we play, it’s changed several times since I was a kid, but the rules are easy. You want to have the lowest score in your hand, don’t mess up while you’re shuffling, and you can’t sit next to a partner or spouse. Most Thanksgivings we end up with 25-30 people playing which means a lot of decks of cards and a lot of strategy. By the time the game is over all you’ve used all your energy laughing and digesting the turkey, then it’s time to go home, sleep and wait until the next big family get together to try and win at cards again.

Ashley (center) with her mom and sister

Ashley Butler

My family's Thanksgiving tradition is enjoying my mother's amazing stuffing! Stuffing/dressing is one of those traditional sides that can give rise to strong opinions. Some love it, some hate it. Those in the latter group haven't had my mom's! She makes it from scratch and we always request that a separate pan be made just for leftovers alone. I can't eat other people's stuffing. It just doesn't compare. This year might be the year that I lock down the secret recipe. I aspire to master a dish in such a manner as this!

Sara (2nd from left in topmost row, in the bottom left corner of her screen) on a Thanksgiving Zoom call with her family

Sara Monks

When I think back on my family’s Thanksgiving traditions, there are, of course, the classics: my mom’s mashed rutabagas, singing old Irish songs, fighting over the wishbone, separating the adults from the kids dining spaces - not just by tables or even rooms, but by literal floors - adults in the formal dining room upstairs, and kids flock to the basement for karaoke, foosball, and ping pong. Fun fact: the foosball table and ping pong table double as pretty decent, kid-friendly dining tables. The Thanksgiving tradition I’m going to focus on, though, is a bit more… unconventional… After everyone has sufficiently stuffed themselves with Thanksgiving goodness, we head to the basement for some good old fashioned competition! We clear off the ping pong table of any remaining plates, everyone forms a circle around the table, ping pong paddles in hand, and so begins Ping Pong Around the World! The object of Ping Pong Around the World is to be the last person standing (sometimes quite literally). The same basic ping pong rules apply, EXCEPT once the first player hits the ball to the other side of the table, everyone must begin walking (if we’re feeling aggressive, running) in a circle around the table. If a player misses the ball, doesn’t clear the net, their hit doesn’t touch the other side of the table, or any other traditional foul, they are eliminated. When a player is eliminated the remaining players temporarily stop the circle and start a new round without said eliminated player. As more players are eliminated, players inevitably move faster as they don’t have as much time between their turns at each end of the table. There’s yelling, there’s laughing, sometimes there’s crying. One year, we got so into the competitive spirit, that when a player lunged for the ball (over the table) they landed on said table and broke one of the legs. The leg was given some temporary repairs, some new rules were put in place, and the game continued.

Unfortunately, given the COVID-19 outbreak, this year will be my second year without Ping Pong Around The World. While all 50+ family members can’t get together in-person, we started a new tradition to keep the Thanksgiving spirit alive! We set up a Zoom call for a time that works for all our time zones - most of my family lives in Illinois, but some of them live in Ohio, Indiana, Florida, Scotland and Ireland, and I’m obviously in Nevada. It may be virtual, but we still get part of the loud, chaotic Thanksgiving feeling we know and love.

Caroline Stillitano

Growing up in an Italian household, I learned from a very young age how important food can be. In Italian culture, food is love. My father always expressed his love for us through cooking, and Thanksgiving was no exception. Many of my family’s Thanksgiving traditions are centered around cooking. We always have multiple dishes and at least three flavors of homemade pie, courtesy of my dad. However, we also make it a tradition to address some of the inequalities that are apparent during the holiday season. For example, every year, we buy meals such as the Market Street Mission Complete Thanksgiving Dinner Kit at our local grocery store, creating a complete Thanksgiving meal for someone struggling with homelessness. We also donate canned food to our local food banks and volunteer when we can. My parents instilled these alternative traditions in me from a young age, and I plan to continue these traditions with my own family in the future.


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