Over My Shoulder: Traditions Grow and Change

by Ann Robson

Holiday traditions are the threads that sew families together from generation to generation. They are soft, silky threads that bend and twist according to time and place. Families adapt and change some traditions but, at their core, you can find the stitches that keep for years and years.

We have found that the Thanksgiving feast here is much like the Christmas feast in Canada, our native land. It seems logical that we would share some of the same traditions since both countries have been inhabited by people from the same countries. Timing is everything — Thanksgiving here is close to Christmas and many families have four-day weekends; Thanksgiving in Canada is in October. At Christmas in Canada there is usually at least a four-day time off; in recent years many employers have given their workers the week between Christmas and New Year’s off. Here workers generally have less vacation time.

When two families are connected by marriage there is often a combination of traditions depending on who did what. My husband’s family was a blend of tradional English and some French. My family tree has many Irish folk who were farmers and urban workers. I think we have managed to mix the two. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy are must-haves. Vegetables and other side dishes depend on personal preferences. Desserts are often served after a break due to their decadence and our already full tummies.

My brother and family alternated hosting Christmas with us for a number of years after we decided it was getting to be too much for our mother. We lived about 200 miles away from home in a snowbelt of northern New York State, and weather was always a concern for those who were traveling. One year, after they arrived with my mother and their three children, we were snowed in. Until the day she died, my mother remembered that as the year we didn’t go to church.

Our usual routine was to open presents Christmas morning followed by brunch. Then my sister-in-law and I would make sure everything was on schedule for the evening feast. In the ensuing pause, the kids played with their new toys and, starting in 1979, my brother and I would set up a card table and open up the Trivial Pursuit game and proceed to take center stage in a head-to-head competition. In ’79 he had given me the first edition of the game which came out in Canada before arriving here.

Since that time our having a game has been the centerpiece of many a family gathering. Over the years we have not kept score but agree that we’re about even. Now our grown children often get in on a few questions, but they are smart enough to know who the real players are.

I imagine that when our children and then the next generation are asked for their memories of Christmas they are going to moan and say “Trivial Pursuit!!!!”

To be fair, we never shirked out duties with other Christmas duties. We merely left the game temporarily and returned to it once the dishes were done. My brother would bring out a cigar and brandy, thus giving me a slight edge.

The game, invented by two Montreal reporters, has stood the test of time — and so have we.

Warm wishes to all for a happy holiday season. 

Ann Robson is the author of “Over My Shoulder: Tales of Life and Death and Everything In Between.” She may be reached at overmyshoulder@charter.net