As the Thanksgiving holiday approached, journalist-in-residence Tim Ghianni asked students in his writing labs to reflect on their family holiday traditions. Here are their first-person remembrances:

Turkey, R&B and games at the adult table

During the Thanksgiving holiday break, my family loves to come together at the dinner table and play a series of three games: Spades, Dominoes and Monopoly. 

It’s always a good time, because all of us are competitive and hate to lose. The room is full of focus, with the only sounds coming from the R&B music and board game pieces being slapped on the table. 

These moments are special, because they get to bring us all into a state of togetherness and competitiveness that we all love and thrive on.

When me and my brother were young, we would always watch our parents and older cousins play these games and see the fun that they were having. We would always pace around the table and ear hustle the trash talk and banter that we were probably too young to hear. 

Once we got to be older, we were invited to the table and got to participate in these games and conversations. The blessing was not only getting the chance to play the game with people you love and look up to, but you get the opportunity to be surrounded by people with so much life experience. 

The conversations were always the best part. The life lessons and stories that were told at the table were always retained in my memory. When I was young, I was simply trying to be a fly on the wall. Now at this point in my life, I have a seat at the table.

This is why I love Thanksgiving so much. During the year we are all in our own bubbles and lives. We all endure our own trials and tribulations that may go unseen or unheard of. Once everyone is around the table, with cards in hand, the connections that we all have bonded us together. This is what family is, and I am truly blessed to have such strong backing and family to connect with and experience these traditions with. I’ll always be receptive to the gems that my family drops, even when I’m trying to get hotels on all of my properties!

–  Canaan Wilson

Cooking, TV, eating, naps and Santa hat 

On the week of Thanksgiving, my family and I prepare ourselves for the time we usually don’t get to spend together. My mom starts cooking the night before, so we can heat up the casseroles in the oven the next morning. She continues to cook as my dad, brother and I usually put something on the television to watch. Our close family friends tend to join us for Thanksgiving too. 

It is a good environment for me to be in, since I usually am quite busy throughout the year that I don’t get to spend much time with them. 

I love that we get to spend the whole day together eating stuffing, turkey, mashed potatoes and green beans. We say grace and continue by shoving are faces with food. We go around the table speaking on things we have enjoyed and are thankful for over the past year.

When lunch is done, we all take naps and end up waking up when it’s dark. My dad turns on Christmas music and starts dancing around the house with a Santa hat on. He gets the tree from the attic, and we start putting on our ornaments as a family. Every year since I was born, we have done this very tradition.

The morning after Thanksgiving my dad wakes me up to prepare the rest of the house for Christmas. We start by putting lights around our whole house together and by the end of it, I’m always cold. Then, we make tea or hot chocolate and throw on a movie to spend the last day of the break doing what families do best: Being together and sharing interests. 

–  Kenley Kizer

Card tables, Uno arguments, Cowboys and casual 

There’s nothing traditional about how me and my family do Thanksgiving. Casual is more like it.

With so many people in a house that only has a table fitting eight people, we take card tables and situate ourselves around the house. 

The kids like to claim the couch for ultimate comfort while the men claim the living room to watch Thanksgiving football and fall asleep as they finish their food. 

We make sure to cook food for about 40 people. While people typically congregate randomly throughout the house for lunch, most of the adults gravitate towards the living room to watch parades and football while the kids claim the dining table for card games that will start family beefs that will last until the next Thanksgiving. 

While the kids yell and argue over if you can put a draw two on top of a draw two or not in Uno and the adults have fallen asleep because the Cowboys are down by three scores, we go for our second Thanksgiving meal of the day. 

We all head to the fridge and have the exact same meal as we had for lunch, yet no one complains, because we know we’ll be having those leftovers for the next week. 

We tend to bring out desserts after dinner because we’re stuffed and know we have to pace ourselves because of our two earlier Thanksgiving meals. 

There’s nothing quite like a Deuel-Vander Kamp Thanksgiving day. We have somehow found a way to make Thanksgiving meals less formal than Sunday lunches after church and I’m all here for it. We don’t get all dressed up, we don’t all eat together and we decide to play games that will divide family members for completely sane reasons.  I’ve learned to love how we do Thanksgiving. We don’t try to be who we are not to feel better about ourselves, we decided as long as we’re with the people we love and enjoying time together under the same roof, we can celebrate Thanksgiving in the most casual way possible. 

–  Mark Foster

Body-surfing at Daytona Beach, Italian food and mini golf

One of the things that my family and I love to do is go down to Daytona Beach during the week of Thanksgiving to a time share, where we go body surfing in the cold water and jump in the pool. It is an absolute highlight when I return home for Thanksgiving. However, we do not only go down for the beach. There are things that we do every single year outside of just jumping into the Atlantic. 

One tradition outside of the beach is going to the local Italian restaurant Porto Fino.  Porto Fino is an Italian restaurant based in Daytona Beach that is open only for dinner. The  restaurant is a very popular place to go dine. So popular, it currently has a 4-star review on Yelp. Their pizza and spaghetti is out of this world. Our family loves going to this location. In fact, we love going there so much, we try going early in the week and then going again later that week.  

Another tradition that our family has is going mini-golfing and afterwards grabbing some soft-serve ice cream. Pirate’s Island Adventure Golf is a mini golf that has a 4-star review on Yelp. It is a very nice place to go mini golf and I recommend it to anyone who wants to play.  Pirate’s Island also has some interesting pricing. There is a deal, which we usually take, where we play all daylong until the place closes. We usually play around three or four rounds and usually we have a ball when it comes to the last round. We would all make our dad mess up or slip up and make him laugh a lot on the final round.  

The final tradition I would like to talk about would be spending time with family. My family would take about a one-hour drive to St. Augustine to go visit family. We would go hang out and enjoy turkey, honey-ham, green beans, and much more. We would stuff ourselves so much, most of us could not even eat a dinner. We would all sit around and watch the Thanksgiving parade. 

–  Ethan True

Picking apples, enjoying Cherokee National Park and making pies 

Something is so familiar about the crisp autumn air and the exciting rush to the holidays. The colors of the trees begin to change into warm colors. Reds, yellows and oranges are on display all around us. Pumpkins are placed so carefully on the porches of neighbors’ homes. Apples are picked with such great certainty to make pies and desserts. 

Before Thanksgiving, my mom and I drive to an apple orchard in Blue Ridge, Georgia, called Merciers. 

We pick apples to bake pies and buy gallons of apple cider to have for Thanksgiving. 

Everything about this tradition instills a great sense of peace and nostalgia. 

The drive through the Cherokee National Forest contains winding roads around the Ocoee River, where colorful leaves fall off the trees with what seems to be a great purpose. 

They fall slowly, getting caught in the wind as if they were being carried to the perfect place to land. The apple orchard is filled with treats, honey, cider and an abundance of apple-related desserts. Merciers offers apple tasting that ensures that everyone chooses the perfect apple flavoring and texture suited for them. Picking out the perfect gallons of cider to have at Thanksgiving will forever be my favorite fall and holiday tradition. 

–  Skylar Linville 

 Time, empty chairs change Thanksgiving traditions

Thanksgiving has changed for my family over the years. Throughout most of my childhood, Thanksgiving traditions were a constant: Lunch with my mom’s parents, dinner with my dad’s parents. We’d get back from Nashville (mom’s side) around 2 p.m. and have a few hours to mill around, then leave for Brentwood (dad’s side) around 6 p.m. 

In recent years, though, as everyone has gotten older, time has grown shorter, and the holidays have become more stressful, my family has had to make a few adjustments. We still eat dinner with my dad’s folks, but lunch with mom’s side has turned into lunch with mom, dad and siblings. The size of the celebration has shrunk significantly. 

This isn’t entirely a bad thing: There are fewer mouths to feed, which means less food to prepare, less cleanup, and overall less worrying on the parts of the women of my family. I also find that a quieter afternoon gives me more opportunity for reflection on exactly how lucky I am – but that same quiet leaves me feeling melancholy about how things will never again be quite the way they used to be. 

–  David Myers

Shooting skeet not as much fun as eating turkey

Thanksgiving is always a majorly celebrated event for my family. Some of my best memories come from this special time of the year. As an only child, my cousins always served as brothers or sisters to me. It was the best time of the year to be able to be in one place with all of them.

My aunt and uncle own a large horse farm with plenty of room to adventure in the great outdoors. I grew up a horse girl but eventually took a different path with theatre, so it was the one time of the year I was able to ride horses once again. We would also take their five four-wheelers out for hours. For a city girl, riding around freely felt like a major adventure. My uncle always sets up skeet shooting and also metal plate targets to practice shooting guns. I never loved that part, but it was special to see my family bonding over exploding pumpkins and random targets. 

The best part, as you might expect, is the endless helpings of food. Decades ago, my great-grandmother created a completely homemade chocolate pie recipe that we still enjoy to this day. My dad is an incredible cook, so he was always in charge of that pie. He ended up making dozens of them due to our large family and hungry bellies. Another special tradition is coming back inside from the freezing cold and making homemade hot chocolate, the more chocolatey the better of course. We clearly love chocolate in the Allison family. 

These memories will forever hold a special place in my heart, as they rooted my relationship with my family. I hope that years from now, we continue this same tradition.

–    Ashlee Allison

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