The first year I had Thanksgiving dinner for my family, I thought a lot about how many bottles of red and white wine to buy, whether my teenage niece should squeeze into the adult table or reign over the kiddie table, and why no one trusted me to actually cook the main dishes (“I’ll bring the ham!” Mom said. “I’ll bring the turkey!” my oldest sister said. “I’ll make the stuffing balls!” my other sister chimed in.)
But I didn’t think twice about the menu. With the biggies taken care of, all I needed to make was mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and succotash (That’s lima beans and corn, for you non-Pennsylvania Dutch folk). Easy enough.
"Let’s have green bean casserole instead,” Jon suggested. “I hate lima beans.”
Silly Jon. No one likes lima beans.
But we have to have them. Why? Because we always have succotash.
My family’s a little particular about routines. Mom and Dad eat at the same restaurant every Sunday morning. They take a long walk along the same Hanover path. Then they go to the same store as always for their weekly groceries.
When it comes to holidays, our routines are even more defined. I shuddered the first time I celebrated Christmas with my in-laws and they suggested eating breakfast before opening gifts. I’m shuddering again right now, just thinking about it.
When I told my mother-in-law about how we always had stuffing balls with holiday meals, where the bread crumbs are buttery, brown and round, she obligingly rolled her Stove-Top stuffing into spheres. Not. The. Same.
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But now that I have a family of my own, I’m starting to see how some routines might have to change.
We always have Thanksgiving dinner at 1 p.m., but that’s also when my sister’s 3-year-old twins and my 3-year-old boy take naps. Could we have dinner a couple hours later instead?
And while we’re at it, honestly, lima beans are disgusting. The past few Thanksgivings, my sister added green beans and a sweet potato casserole to the mix, and all were merrier.
While some routines slip away, new ones are forged. Unintentional ones — such as my annual freak-out over the lack of participation and enthusiasm in tree decorating — I hope don’t get passed along.
Other traditions my own little family has established usher in holiday joy, and I hope they never stop. These include bundling up and touring Rocky Ridge Christmas Magic, watching “The Polar Express” as soon as it comes on TV, and going to Christmas Eve Mass in our finest clothes.
We leave carrots for Rudolph, cookies for Santa and a thank-you note to both before going to bed on Christmas night.
Some of the routines we pass along to our children might end up being a bowl of succotash, something they endure rather than enjoy.
But some of them also might become traditions, something they can savor just at the holidays.
Like stuffing balls.
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