champagne cheers on a zoom call parkinson's disease thanksgiving

New Thanksgiving Traditions

Last updated: November 2022

When we were newlyweds, we would drive from Long Island to my childhood home in New Jersey. My older sister and family came up from Virginia. My 2 younger siblings were still at home. Having been raised in a very European household, Thanksgiving was never an important holiday in my family. We had the traditional turkey but sides could vary from year to year. There really were no must haves every year.

Traffic was often an issue. The year it took my sister 9 hours driving with 3 children under 3, and us 5 and a half from NY, my mother decided that it was really not a necessary holiday for us to travel for. Instead we agreed to gather at her house between Christmas and New Year when we could all find the time. She named it Thanksgivmus! We did so for many years to come. What a true gift!

For many years after that, my husband and I hosted Thanksgiving celebrations in many different forms. The first several years my husband’s family would join us for large family gatherings in our small apartment. Since no one had more than a few hours to travel it was doable and we enjoyed doing it, although we cooked for days ahead.

Honoring the Italian heritage

Since we were both teachers, we had Wednesday off which gave us a bonus day. However my husband’s Italian heritage demanded an unprecedented amount of food. We began festivities at noon with an enormous antipasto and dozens of homemade ravioli. I used his grandmother’s wooden ravioli roller which made it so special. That roller still hangs in a place of honor in my kitchen. TRADITION!

Later in the evening we did the typical American turkey feast with all the expected sides. That was followed by 3 or 4 different pies, after dinner liqueurs, and espresso. TRADITION!

We had Friday off as well and were basically comatose but loved the whole celebration. As family passed on, grew up, increased in numbers, or moved away, we stopped having everyone over. No one had the space or time and stamina. So we replaced that time honored tradition.

Scaling back

My younger sister and family soon became our regular Thanksgiving guests and joined us no matter where we were both located. Since my brother in law is partially Italian we continued our ravioli lunch and he loved joining in the making of the antipasto. TRADITION!

Inevitably one year they could not come. My sister had just begun a new job and couldn’t get the day before and after Thanksgiving off. Although my older sister asked us to join them in Virginia, we chose to keep it a quiet Thanksgiving with just my husband, son and I.

It was before the days of cell phones and we were awaiting a call regarding the adoption of our daughter from Korea and certainly did not want to miss it. We decided to keep to our usual festivities on a smaller scale. When my young son noticed no stick of pepperoni with the antipasto he questioned how it could possibly be Thanksgiving without pepperoni? My husband went out and found some. TRADITION!

The holidays after a diagnosis

I had also just been diagnosed with Lupus and a quiet more relaxed holiday was just what was needed. Watching our 3 year old help stir and set the table with no concerns of everything being perfect lifted a huge burden. I was just learning how to navigate what I could manage without extreme fatigue. After all, a holiday we could all enjoy was most important.

A year later our daughter was part of our Thanksgiving and kimchi became a new side. Who knew how good it was with turkey? A new tradition was born. We also had to stop the ravioli as my son and I are gluten and dairy free. I can’t possibly include all our ensuing Thanksgivings in this single post but I am sure you understand how tradition based and family oriented we have always been.

Thanksgiving, COVID, and Parkinson's

Then along came COVID and there became no question of family gatherings. At first I was very frustrated by not being able to be together. I had also just been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2020 and was trying to be satisfied with being able to keep things simple but special nonetheless. The idea of missing family was difficult but we had no choice.

As much as I have always loved having family together distance, size and space had made it virtually impossible. Since the pandemic, my siblings have all volunteered to host at least part of our ever expanding family. However, my increasing loss of mobility prevents me from getting into any of their homes. Steep stairs are not navigable. We do have chair-climbers at our home, but quite frankly, having more than our immediate family would be far too difficult for me.

My daughter and her family generally come over Thanksgiving weekend and bring or prepare the majority of the meal knowing how easily I tire. I still feel saddened that things can no longer be the same, but know how quickly Parkinson's can cause a setback that can last for days.

Accepting new traditions

At an attempt to cheer me up my husband and son began mentioning the positives of it just being the 3 of us.

No green bean casserole. We can eat anytime we choose without having to schedule around a football game. No deflecting conversations that are leading to the political or controversial current events. No 10 kids under the age of 7 deciding to play hide and seek or demonstrating their gymnastic skills in the living room. No 2 year olds having simultaneous meltdowns.

Last year as an extended family we chose an agreeable time for a Zoom toast and a quick meet and greet which we hope to make even larger this year. Our new and very acceptable TRADITION!

As wonderful as time honored traditions are, I have learned how important it is to be flexible and also to know what I can handle physically. Parkinson's has become a part of all of our lives and we try to accept it with grace. Last year I played semi-sous chef and was able to enjoy a relaxed and satisfying holiday. I wish the same for all of you.

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