Thanksgiving is an American and Canadian Tradition, celebrating the bringing in of the Harvest from the previous years work. And is celebrated on the 2nd Monday in October in Canada and the 4th Thursday of November in America.
Here is an insight into how it is celebrated over the in states by the LIttle Grippers USA family.
Written by Little Grippers USA’s Liz Smith
Over the river and through the wood,
To Grandmother’s house we go.
The horse knows the way
To carry the sleigh
Through the white and drifted snow!
Over the river and through the wood,
Oh how the wind does blow!
It stings the toes and bites the nose
As over the ground we go.
These are verses of the song my mother would sing as we traveled the interstate highway in our green station wagon, on our way to my grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving. We certainly didn’t have horses or a sleigh- but when my mom was a little girl her family did. They had a barn full of horses, wagons, carts, and a sleigh. She and her brothers would bundle up in blankets as their father encouraged the horses to race across the snow – with the promise of a steaming mug of hot chocolate at the end of the ride. Her grandparents lived nearby and they could ride “over the river and through the wood” to visit. She often talks about those idyllic days, when the entire family gathered at every holiday, and no one lived farther than could be traveled by horse-power.
When I was a little girl we lived in the snow belt of upstate New York and I remember my father shoveling the snow into piles that reached way over my head on either side of the path to our front door. My brothers and I spent hours playing in the snow: sledding, building snow men and snow forts, making snow angels. Winter in the northeastern United States meant snow and quite often we had snow before Thanksgiving.
Perhaps this is why I always associate Thanksgiving with the cold – and love the cozy feeling of sitting in front of the fire, cracking open walnuts, with the smell of the turkey roasting in the oven, and the pumpkin pies baking. I love Thanksgiving. There are no gifts to buy, and the focus is on family, friends, gratitude, and counting our blessings. Yes, there is a big meal to prepare, often for 10 or more people, but the Thanksgiving menu, while extensive, is quite simple due to tradition. In my family, and many others, there is little creativity needed to plan Thanksgiving dinner.
Turkey is a definitely required – although we tried Turducken one year (similar to a Three Bird roast in the UK). I’m not sure if it was due to the departure from expectations, or unappetizing visual presentation of a boneless hen inside a boneless duck inside a boneless turkey – all filled with a highly seasoned stuffing – but it was not a hit. This year for the first time, I have ordered a farm fresh turkey. On Tuesday afternoon I will stop at the farm stand and pick up a turkey which was running around the farm just that morning. I can’t wait to find out if there is an improvement in flavor, or if anyone even notices.
We have prepared stuffing the way my dad likes it for my entire life. Dad prefers his stuffing without any sage or seasoning of any kind other than salt and pepper. So I take two loaves of white bread, toast the slices lightly, and cut them into cubes. Thanksgiving morning I saute onions and diced apples in a lot of butter, add the cubes, lots of salt and pepper, enough chicken broth to moisten, and if I’m feeling daring I put some into the turkey and cook the rest separately. I have read all the warnings about how stuffing in the bird is unsafe because you can’t be sure it’s cooked properly and therefore could give all your guests food poisoning – but stuffing is infinitely better if it’s soaked up the turkey juices so we take our chances.
No garlic smashed potatoes for us. We have a minimalist approach to mashed potatoes. Boil them until soft, add butter and cream, salt and pepper, and mash to desired consistency. For us that means there are still some lumps to give texture – we don’t want our mashed potatoes as smooth as baby food.
You won’t find jellied cranberry sauce in the shape of the can on my table. My mom always makes the cranberry sauce – just a couple of bags of cranberries boiled in orange juice with lots of sugar and a bit of cinnamon. Delicious! And she also brings a dish of squash – nothing fancy, just a bit of salt, pepper, and some butter.
We do like to have a bit of green on the table. This year I might get creative and do a dish of Brussels sprouts with Balsamic vinegar. Don’t know how the folks will react- and I probably will have a Green Bean Casserole as back-up. You know the one, it’s found on the Campbell’s mushroom soup can and involves canned green beans and French’s French Fried Onions. The recipe was developed by the Campbell’s Soup Company in 1955 and has been a staple in our family as long as I can remember.
Dessert is the one area where I can inject some creativity – although it’s always pie and each guest has a favorite. My dad loves mince pie, which his mother made when he was young, and at that time the pies were truer to their British origins and actually contained meat and suet. These days a mince pie is made with dried fruit, sugar, molasses, lots of spices, and perhaps some rum. I buy them already made, or if I’m feeling adventurous I have put together a crust with a jar of mince meat, but one day I might feel ambitious enough to try this recipe from Martha Stewart.
Pumpkin pie is probably the most traditional Thanksgiving dessert, and the top request of my mom and son, so I always make at least one. And I always make at least one pecan pie- my personal favorite.
I have hosted our family’s Thanksgiving dinner for the last decade or more – this is one of the times when I fervently wish I had a sister! This year we’ll be 11 at the table, and we are the epitome of the American blended family. We’ll have an 81-year span from the youngest (our 10-year-old daughter) to the oldest (my dad, intrepid at 91). We’ll include friends, family, step-children, in-laws, grandparents, parents, and siblings.
I am feeling a sense of relief that Thanksgiving is upon us this year. We have lots to be thankful for – our family has endured illness, surgeries, and even death in just the last couple of months – and now everyone is mending well. The kids are all doing well at their various pursuits, and we even have a baby coming – due on Christmas day. Thanksgiving Day is an annual reminder for us to slow down the pace and spend time with loved ones. And to remember that we are truly blessed!
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So when I was little I always looked forward to Guy Fawkes Night, for me as a child it meant a huge bonfire at our local Rugby Club or School on which we burnt our ‘Penny for the Guy’, with amazing fireworks, hot dogs, toffee apples, and sparklers all celebrated with family and friends wrapped up head to toe in a hundred layers because the clocks had just gone back and the nights were drawing in and all of a sudden it was freezing cold.
Well not a lot has changed in the 30 or so years, we still go to a organised local event, with a huge bonfire and fireworks, although the fireworks are a million times better than they used to be, many more, louder and bigger ones, and the weather isn’t as cold as I remember it being. One thing that has changed is the name, which is correct I am not sure, but in our house we now call it Bonfire Night.
We tend to make a big deal about the 5th of November (or the Saturday nearest to it…) in the Little Grippers household, with friends over before hand for the kids to play together, a huge feast of typical bonfire night foods including sausages, minted mushy peas (this is a Nottingham tradition that we didn’t mind adopting!!), corn on the cob and potato wedges. Tiffin and Toffee apples were wolfed down by the kids, who for them the toffee apples were a new experience (shhh don’t tell the dentist!).
Our nearest event is organised by our local Scout Group, it is a great family night and very well organised. The Beavers make the Guy Fawkes to go on the top of the bonfire, but I no longer see any other children with their home made Guy Fawkes, and not for 20 or so years have I seen any child ask for a “Penny for the Guy Miss?” sitting outside their local pub or shop. Is this due to Trick or Treat becoming ever so popular? With the huge amounts of sweets being collected on Halloween (we have enough to last the whole year!) why would any child go to the effort and expense of making a Guy Fawkes now a days?
Now these are all traditions, but where did they start and what is it all about? Well if you are one of our many customers across the world then you may never have heard about Guy Fawkes, the Gun Powder Plot and Bonfire Night. To wonder why we light Bonfires across the country, burn a man on the top called Guy and set off hundreds of fireworks, as a strange custom would not be a silly question. Well here is my quick history lesson (but be warned I wasn’t particularly good at History at school….)
In 1603 James I became King. Prior to his reign Queen Elizabeth I had persecuted Catholics across the land, and it was hoped that James I would be more tolerant and give more equal rights to Catholics, especially as his mother had been Catholic. However this did not appear to be the case, and a number of men grouped together and planned the Gun Powder Plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill the King and over throw his parliament on the 5th November 1605. The plot was the most ambitious plot ever made, and consisted of placing 36 barrels of gun powder in a cellar below the Houses of Parliament in London. The plot may have succeeded had it not been for a letter sent from one of the gang, to his friend Lord Monteagle, warning him not to attend the opening of parliament on the 5th November.
Guy Fawkes was caught red handed in the cellar, and was arrested and executed for his part in the plot. Whether Guy Fawkes was the instigator of the whole plot or simply the man set to light the powder, is debated by historians, but one thing that everyone knows, is that he is the most infamous of the Gun Powder Plot Gang. On the very same night, in celebration of the fact that the Houses of Parliament and the King did not fall foal to the plot, bonfires were lit across the country with and without effigies of Guy Fawkes. And every year since 1605 the same tradition has been followed.
In later years fireworks were added as part of the celebration, and they grow bigger and better each and every year.
Well, what ever the history, or the reasons behind the traditions, we love Bonfire Night, the family get together, and the fun we all have. So next year the Little Grippers parents will be encouraging the kids to make their own Guy Fawkes, not to stand on the street asking for money, but just for fun!!
For those of you not old enough to remember the nursery rhyme about the Gun Powder Plot here is the whole thing:
Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Guy Fawkes, guy, t’was his intent
To blow up king and parliament.
Three score barrels were laid below
To prove old England’s overthrow.
By god’s mercy he was catch’d
With a darkened lantern and burning match.
So, holler boys, holler boys, Let the bells ring.
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king.
And what shall we do with him?
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