Holiday Traditions: Family History through Traditions of Material Culture

I might just be learning something in my Public History major. The term, material culture, from what Wikipedia says,[1] “refers to the relationship between artifacts and social relations.” One interpretation can be that that means how the lace doily or the medal or the PUMPKIN PIE makes sense between people. My family is big on food. We are nowhere near Norman Rockwell’s Thanksgiving picture,
see right (don’t sue me for sharing the pic) but we do our best.

Small departure from possible other blogs, you cannot get away with writing about Thanksgiving unless you talk about family traditions. That is where material culture comes in. The positive memories of Thanksgiving keep the tradition alive. Black Friday came AFTER Thanksgiving. Despite retail America’s reluctance to admit otherwise, Thanksgiving is a legitimate American holiday and it gets celebrated whether they want to jump straight to Christmas from the 4th of July or not.

My family has changed much over the years. Growing up, the basics of the meal composed most traditional dishes sans the sweet potato or yam dish because I’m not typically a marshmallows fan but I can eat them. I do not go after them, however. My family did not stick specifically to a tradition or custom because it was there (meaning part of the national holiday culture), but adapted it to our personal needs and requirements. I think that many families are like this. A tradition means something when it becomes personal. Besides, five sides in addition to the meat entrée and dessert was plenty.

Although my personal plans include traveling this year, I can mentally go through the entire meal and prepare it with minimal paper/online recipes. Thanks, Mom. This may be silly, but I am going to prove it. (For anyone with any questions or other ways of doing this, feel free to comment below the post. I’m always looking for fun recipes.)

Basic Menu:

Turkey breast (cooked breast side down, 15 min/pound, 325 degrees. Thermometer does not pop out. Safe, juicy, yummy, oh my word-good!) DO NOT SLICE turkey until it’s rested for at least 15 minutes to a half hour. Just don’t. Thank me later.

Ocean Spray whole berry cranberry sauce (whole berry: Somehow that was better for you?) I don’t care if it’s generic. I just want some form of the sweet-tart concoction on the plate, and I don’t know that many people who want to make the stuff when it’s less-expensive to buy it. *shrugs*

Mashed potatoes with garlic powder and salt to taste (beat with a beater after mashing- makes a difference). You can add onion powder and pepper if you would like. My Mom made them with a little milk, and sometimes added parsley flakes. Simple good food.

Green bean casserole (One family member’s favorite, another despised it.) We make it simply: cream of mushroom soup, cream of celery soup (secret ingredient), milk, cut green beans. No onions needed for the top. Simply cover with aluminum foil. Because I’m the one that loved it, I got opening cans duty. After a while, it hurt your hands to make it, but I could live off this stuff.

Corn- niblets (open can, pour into bowl, nuke, add salt/butter if desired; life goes on).

Stuffing (we actually like Stove Top, although I now prefer whatever the type is that has chunks of celery and bread in it).

Some people have any number of other dishes to add. Pumpkin pie is Libby’s recipe, double the spices (triple if doubling the recipe), add a little vanilla, and make the pie crust from scratch. Honestly? Pie crust is not rocket science if you take about fifteen minutes and tastes fantastic. Just choose whatever you want and go with it.

That long explanation of my family’s food traditions for one holiday should help you to think of what your family does. If you were not commenting on traditions either mentally or to a coworker or family friend when reading the food part, I would be surprised. Food elicits passion. It helps establish communications and is a form of communication in itself. A good meal can settle wars. Other good meals start relationships. Humans bond in material culture over food. Think about this for a few moments, and then choose to write down your family’s specific holiday recipes.

It may be something small, but people writing down recipes (and especially family-modified recipes) are how a recipe survived in my family since the 1880’s and my Great (multiple times) Grandma Baker. I am not making up the name, and her chocolate cookie recipe survives, albeit in a slightly changed form. I have both the original recipe and my Mom’s modified form. If your family has a “secret” recipe, you don’t have to share it, but write it down. Although oral history is a valid, useful, and amazingly accurate way of communicating history most of the time, the numbers change over years. Make sure that your teaspoons and tablespoons or ounces and grams don’t get modified too far.

Happy Thanksgiving to you, your family, and write things down while the tradition-leaders still can make corrections. When they’re gone, they’re irreplaceable.


[1] I like Wikipedia. It may not be “scholarly” but I use it all the time because it works and helps. And the fact that anyone can review it makes it relevant.

Advertisements

Feel free to comment.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s