By Diane M. Calabrese / Published November 2019
A happy contradiction defines the year’s end. Cold weather arrives, but we glow with anticipation. Thoughts of holidays—time for reflection and celebration with loved ones and friends—bring the excitement. Thanks-giving, which occurs just a month or so before the beginning of meteorological winter, starts off the interval, which concludes on the first day of the next year.
“Each year at Thanksgiving, we travel to my hometown of Clearwater, FL, to be with our extended family,” says Doug Rucker, owner of Clean and Green Solutions in Porter, TX. “This is always a great time and something we look forward to because the food is always fantastic, and we catch up on each other’s progress.
“Of course, we express how thankful we are for the blessings we all experienced that year,” Rucker continues. “There is also a little football thrown in.”
Holiday traditions for Rucker include those at Christmas. “A Christmas Eve tradition from my childhood that I have continued with my family is attending our church Christmas Eve candlelight service,” he explains. “Then I grill steaks for our family for dinner, and we open one gift.”
Recognizing that all members of a team welcome the opportunity to be with loved ones on a day as special as Christmas, Rucker started a new tradition involving his company. “For the past several years, our company has looked forward to taking at least two weeks off to be with family,” he explains. “We do not schedule any work those two weeks.”
The two-week break is especially important to employees who must travel to reunite with family. It gives them time to plan. Since Rucker is local during this time period, he can—and occasionally does—“sneak into the office to get a few things done,” but not every day.
Holiday traditions are important, says Rucker. “Every year, we reflect and talk through traditions carried on in our family from our childhood. This is always a great source of comfort and appreciation for my entire family and reminds us of our family history. It also reinforces with our own daughter the importance and priority of passing down family traditions.”
Stories, beliefs, and customs are the essence of tradition. Often, we recapture elements of the first celebration of a holiday.
Turkey is the centerpiece of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Imagine the turkey being closely allied to the turkeys served on December 13, 1621, the day Governor Bradford set for thanksgiving by the Plymouth settlers and the Native Americans (Wampanoag members led by Massasoit) who joined them. (It was not until December 26, 1941, that federal lawmakers established the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving; until then, the holiday moved around a lot.)
But back to the heritage turkey, which has several verifiable ties to the turkeys that were consumed in 1621, such as slow growth rate and long and productive outdoor life span. Read more about the turkey at the Livestock Conservancy website (https://livestockconservancy.org/index.php/resources/internal/heritage-turkey).
“Jake Clark and I look forward to getting a heritage turkey from the local turkey farm each year for Thanksgiving,” says Brian Carter, the president of Armstrong-Clark Company in Sonora, CA. “The heritage turkeys are close relatives of the turkey the pilgrims ate. When they are cooked, they stay juicy and moist.”
Savoring food together establishes connections in the present. We talk about how a meal was prepared, the fun—and sometimes tumult—in getting everything about it right. We also recall what it must have been like to be among those who celebrated the holiday first—in this case, Thanksgiving.
The Plymouth settlers were confronting a prospect of great adversity, given what was likely to be a harsh winter that was just beginning. They had also lost
almost half their number in the months since they had arrived. Still, they gave thanks. We can all find a reason to give thanks on any day, and Thanksgiving reminds us of that.
Holiday traditions start in many ways. Sometimes it’s an idea that perhaps everyone should get together before a scheduled holiday break begins.
Carter looks forward to a holiday tradition that brings members of the business together. “The guys at the plant look forward to exchanging gifts on the last day before we leave for Christmas and New Year’s Day,” says Carter. “After the gift exchange, we all go for a nice lunch with cocktails.”
With the conclusion of lunch, the holiday break officially commences. Team members do not return until the day after the New Year’s holiday.
Many holidays occur between the end of November and the beginning of January—some secular and some religious. In every holiday tradition, however, there is generally a spiritual element.
As we carry out a tradition that once involved those who are no longer with us, we are remembering them (and missing them). How often have you heard someone say, “I tried to bake the cookies just as grandmother would” or something similar?
We each anticipate the holidays for unique reasons. For some of us, singling out one tradition that we particularly embrace is difficult because we enjoy many. And some just enjoy every bit of time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day—Christmas being particularly special.
Beth Borrego, vice president of See Dirt Run! Inc. in Germantown, MD, says there are “several” holiday traditions to which she particularly looks forward each year. “At Thanksgiving, we fry our turkey,” she says, pointing to a method that is very popular in some regions.
(For a primer on deep-fried turkey, which was first made widely known in the 1930s by the Cajun chef Justin Wilson, see a 2015 Vogue article by Brooke Bobb at https://www.vogue.com/article/food-thanksgiving-deep-fried-turkey.)
“Our tree goes up the day after Thanksgiving,” says Borrego. “Our family enjoys this tradition.”
Holiday memories often begin well outside the end-of-the year time span for Borrego. “We collect Christmas ornaments from every place we go for vacation,” she explains.
Memories are also built into the holiday cooking that Borrego does. For Christmas she has a tradition of making a standing rib roast with popovers the way her mother taught her. It’s the sort of tradition we all enjoy reading about because it puts each of us in mind of something we learned from a loved one.
“Christmas has always been a very special holiday for me,” says Angie Farley Thurman, president of Farley’s Inc. in Siloam Springs, AR. “I lived nearly 200 miles away from home—Arkansas—for 25 years, but I always made it a priority to come back for Christmas.”
Farley Thurman only missed one Christmas holiday at home. Grandparents, parents, and extended family got together on Christmas Eve. “It has always been a time filled with love and fun,” she says.
The Christmas Eve gathering was a wonderful chance to “catch up” on what everyone was doing, says Farley Thurman—especially so when she lived a distance away.
“We always have an afternoon or early evening ‘grazing’ dinner, and then we gather in the living room to read the birth story in Luke before we open presents,” says Farley Thurman. The bustle and joy of gift opening and reactions, and of taking time outside to hike on the farm or throw a football, are things she relishes. “These special times together are treasured.”
Including the company’s team—considered extended family—in Christmas celebration is important to Farley Thurman and Calvin Farley (company vice president). It’s a tradition that her mother and father started, she explains. The only thing that’s changed about the dinner for employees is the date, which moved from December 24 to December 23 because December 24 is now a holiday at the company.
The December 23 celebration at a local restaurant includes a small gift exchange and distribution of employee bonuses. “It is a time for us to express our appreciation for the hard work our employees do all year to help our company grow and be successful,” says Farley Thurman.
“Holidays are a time to reflect on the blessings we have in our lives,” says Farley Thurman, “For most of us, day-to-day life is so hectic that we sometimes forget to be thankful for the small daily gifts we each have. During the holidays, we have an excellent opportunity to take time to slow down to consider our countless blessings and take the time to focus on who and what is really important in our lives.”