Thanksgiving Traditions & Memories
Posted by Andrea Nakayama
What’s on my plate this month?
Breaking Traditions and Savoring Memories
Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that’s shrouded in tradition. Not just the tradition of what we eat ~ turkey, stuffing and cranberries ~ but also where we go, who else will be there, who makes the gravy and who cleans it up.
Thanksgiving is also a holiday that’s seasoned with memories.
The traditions stick until they’re broken. The memories hold until they’re forgotten.
Sometimes marriage is the torch that passes the tradition of hosting down to the next generation. Other times it’s when the first baby arrives, or perhaps the purchase of a house. There are those times when the torch is passed to the next home or generation out of necessity.
And sometimes we break tradition just because we can.
And then your new location becomes your Thanksgiving hub ~ whether it be your own family’s home, your in-laws house replete with their family’s traditions, or your living room with a warm blanket and a good book. This hub now holds the warmth and welcoming and expectation of the holiday. And it also holds the memories of previous Thanksgivings, thick in the air like the smell of the roasting turkey.
What memories are you thankful for this year?
This year I’m the one breaking tradition.
And I’m doing it for my health.
No. I’m not sick and thankfully (things to be thankful for, for sure!), nobody else in my family is either.
Our family tradition is to travel to my parents house, now in San Diego, where the clan gathers, prepares, feasts and celebrates with a gluten-free Thanksgiving and bellies stuffed to the hilt.
My niece, Maya, and I spend two days in the kitchen making coconut whipped cream (her favorite), decadent raw pecan pie and a low-glycemic pumpkin torte that fits even my own dietary parameters (obviously my favorite!).
My dad silently tends to the turkey with huffs and grumbles of both pride and the curiosity about how this year’s bird will result. Moist on the inside, crispy on the outside and optimally flavorful are held high in his hopes.
My mom shuffles about, graciously cleaning up after everyone between recipes, washing mixing bowls and measuring cups, and being the best sous chef in the house, chopping onions, finding that hidden jar of ghee in the cupboard and halving the Brussels sprouts. My sister brings the wine and the coffee and gets the plates cleared and washed between dinner and dessert. My mother-in-law whips up the gravy in the tradition of her family.
But this year we’re staying home. It’s a lot to miss (especially the precious kitchen time with my niece), and yet I’ve made the decision to support my own body’s needs this season.
It’s as simple as this: I’ve been traveling a lot lately and in just two weeks from Thanksgiving day, my son Gilbert and I will board a plane to journey to the Middle East for a coming-of-age excursion. Through the years I’ve learned, thanks to my Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, that my body needs rest. The rest comes each night, as I catch my circadian wave to fall asleep at a reasonable hour, despite the seemingly infinite to-do list, but also in recognizing my own body’s health and immune triggers. Flying, which I do quite often these days, is one of those triggers for me. I can feel it in my bones.
What will you do this Thanksgiving to honor your health?
Yet wherever I am, Thanksgiving inevitably leaves me traveling back in time, remembering not just the current traditions, but customs of years past, from my childhood to my younger adult days.
For many years, before my parents moved to the warmer climate of southern California, my Thanksgivings were about moving toward the snow. Less because I’m a snow-bunny than because my parents lived in Colorado and I lived in San Francisco, where we’d make concerted efforts to drive to the snow.
During those years my husband (then boyfriend) Isamu and I would pack our warmest clothes and boots in preparation for the Colorado chill. We’d load our bags with books ~ the kind with recipes as well as the ones to read ~ and prepare for the mixed blessings of a family gathering. There was the comfort of being in the fold of my parents home. The nervousness of bringing my boyfriend into the mix. The fun of planning and preparing an extravagant meal. The satisfaction of eating that homemade goodness. And the unavoidable tension around clean-up time given my father’s propensity to run a tight ship without informing anyone of his plan-of-action, before he relinquished the responsibility to my sister.
I don’t know how many Thanksgiving there were like this before the one where Isamu’s family joined us for the festivities. That year our parents anticipated, with great glee, that we were likely coming together in this fashion so that he and I could announce our engagement. In fact, that was Isamu’s intention as well, though he was unaware of the parental expectations and I was oblivious to it all.
We did not announce our engagement that Thanksgiving.
Although the two sets of parents weren’t that far off the mark. The announcement came a month later, at Christmas.
With Isamu’s deliberate and methodical resolve, he’d gotten lost in the research of how to choose the perfect diamond. He was spending every spare moment (of which there were few in those days) hunting the Bay Area for his prize. By Thanksgiving he had not yet given up the hunt.
And for Isamu it wasn’t about the ring. In fact the diamond still sits in the default setting it came in, in a special compartment in my jewelry box where I placed it a couple of years after he died, removing the token that I thought would remain on my finger forever. His motive, appreciating how particular my tastes are, was to have me design my own setting to hold the diamond, for which he had searched high and low. He considered even this symbol of our commitment to represent its own mini-marriage of our unique selves. It was the quest for the best that had postponed his timing and disappointed our eager parents at that first communal Thanksgiving.
For me it’s as sweet as apple pie to be brought back to those memories as the holiday approaches. Those are memories of starting and building a family ~ of something that felt like spring in the midst of autumn.
Though holidays can sometimes be tainted with an element of grief ~ grief for lost ideals, grief for how we’ve changed or haven’t, grief for traditions that have had to be altered (or maybe for ones that we wish would miraculously transform themselves), grief for the foods we wish we could eat without suffering tomorrow ~ that grief brings an element of renewal that can be a blessing.
The grief holds with it a tender glance back at a tradition that once was. Yet it also supports the opportunity to acknowledge and embrace what is and what could be. Glance back with appreciation and celebration. Glance back with remembrance. Bring those jewels of memory back to life with your stories shared at your family table. Weave the past traditions into the new ones.
What memories of Thanksgiving traditions will you share tomorrow?
This Thanksgiving I celebrate life, as Isamu did and as I know he would have wanted his family to do. I’ll crimp the sides of the gluten-free apple pie crust with the same care and attention that his fingers did. I’ll stop to take in the aromas of my food as he would have before putting fork to plate. I’ll tell the stories of our many Thanksgivings together, including the one where we took to the streets of San Francisco with our leftovers to share with those that had less bounty.
And I’ll ask everyone that has joined us at our Thanksgiving table this year to share stories of their memories and traditions.
I hope your holiday plate is filled with the blessed patterns that season can offer; the return to tradition (old or adapted); faith in life, the bounty that is around you, and the promise that the year ahead holds; sweet remembrance of people whose bodies no longer grace the table but whose presence is collectively held; and the gratitude that a meal shared with family and friends, or even chosen solitude, can bring.
Happy Thanksgiving and my gratitude for your company on this shared journey to health!
On my plate throughout Thanksgiving Day
We often think that it’s the tryptophan in the turkey that makes us so tired after the Thanksgiving meal. Tryptophan is the essential amino acid that is the precursor to the feel-good neuro-chemical serotonin. In the body, serotonin is converted to melatonin, which regulates both mood and sleep.
Yet if we eat protein-rich foods, we’re likely consuming tryptophan all the time (possibly even every day) without feeling those same post-Thanksgiving sedative effects.
So let’s talk turkey.
What really leaves us slumping on the couch after the meal of thanks?
It could be the consumption of a more carbohydrate-rich meal than you might usually eat (stuffing, potatoes and pie all at one sitting). Or, and more likely for many of us, it could be your slowed metabolism after such a feast.
How, what and when we eat have a tremendous affect on our mood and metabolism. You may be tempted to skip your meals early in the day in anticipation of the calories that you’ll be consuming around the Thanksgiving table. Yet when you deprive the body by bypassing your hunger signals, then gorge on one huge meal, your body actually freaks out. It thinks its starving and does everything it can to store the food.
What happens then is that your metabolism becomes sluggish, you get sleepy, and the release of insulin in response to your meal is stored as fat instead of converted to energy. Big meals make you sleepy because your metabolism is slowed!
This Thanksgiving I’ll provide my body with continuous calories throughout the day. I won’t be in starvation mode when I sit down to feast, and my signals of satiety will be clear. As a result I hope to have more energy, less pent up (and somewhat frantic) hunger, & a more even mood.
Care to join me for a nibble?
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