Stellpflug column: Traditions serve a purpose

Stellpflug column: Traditions serve a purpose

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Let’s talk turkey. And by turkey, I mean traditions.

Every family has them, some families pass them on, others create their own new ones. Just so you know, if you decide to abandon all the old ones, there are consequences.

Early in our marriage we hosted a family Thanksgiving. We decided to change it up a little, casting fate to the wind and “doing our own thing.” This involved two cookie sheets of stuffed Cornish hens, Brussels sprouts instead of green bean casserole, and sweet potatoes instead of good old mashed potatoes and gravy. We served hors d’ oeuvres of ham roll-ups with cream cheese and pickles inside and I thought I was Julia Childs. I even wore an apron, and looked all Betty Crocker-y to boot.

This wasn’t quite as rogue as the first year we did prime rib, but that’s a story for another time. Needless to say, our guests were not impressed. Without a turkey, the family didn’t know where to begin. Without gravy, the meal appeared naked to them. And without the green bean casserole, well, let’s just say I may as well have served baloney sandwiches, no mustard.

Traditions. Whether they involve menus or activities; kitchen events or travel, creative crafts, singing, costumes or specific utensils; they need to be repeated, savored and definitely passed on. Breaking traditions can break hearts, and who wants to do that on a holiday?

If hiding eggs was something everyone always did at Easter, hide away. If corned beef and cabbage is what you eat once a year, like it or not, go ahead, smell up the house with cabbage. If shopping with your sisters is every Black Friday, year after year, go along and enjoy their company and the lunch reward- no matter how much you hate the crowds and the commercialism, it’s once a year. If your family always used tinsel on a cut tree, or if you had artificial so you could put it up the day after Thanksgiving, if you want that to continue, go for it.

The comfort comes from the anticipation. The knowing that no matter what else happened during the year some things you can just count on. The wonderful thing about traditions is that there is no right or wrong. There is no have to or must according to society, your neighborhood or Martha Stewart; it is just about what has always been. We look forward to the certainty of repetition.

When I was in college, and mid-terms led quickly to semester finals, my roommate and I would experience the usual amount of distress. My friend would start playing Christmas carols and we were soon all singing along to “We need a little Christmas” and yes, “right this very minute.” But it got us through to the break for the holiday. We brought with us our hope of the “comfort and joy” soon to be experienced in our home environments. For that moment, as we sang along, we were transported to a time and place that defied the changes and the challenges that surrounded us.

What will I serve this Thanksgiving? Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy and green bean casserole. Okay, we might try a new cranberry dish, but we will keep the staples, the things everyone can count on.

This goes against my more adventurous and experimental side. This doesn’t allow for people to choose their own adventure, abandon the expectations and introduce something fresh. This doesn’t allow for adapting to new circumstances, places and people. At the same time, it does provide a consistency in a very precarious and unpredictable time.

Cut out a few paper snowflakes to remind yourself of simpler times. Pass on the stories that accompany the activities and traditions. Share a few legends, make a wish upon a star. Whatever works. I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving, with or without a turkey.

Kay Stellpflug is an educator and trainer in interpersonal and professional communications. She works and lives in Beaver Dam and can be reached at

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