Is Thanksgiving a time to pause and give thanks? Or is it the official kickoff to the busy holiday season, the day after which (or during which) people can turn their attention fully to Christmas? Many in Appanoose County have Thanksgiving traditions that demonstrate it can be both.
Busy extended families are not always able to get together for all the holidays, so Marilyn Gorden’s family started a tradition years ago of getting together on Thanksgiving Day but combining the Thanksgiving celebration with a Christmas celebration.
“I don’t even remember when it started because it’s been going on for so many years,” she says.
On Thanksgiving Day, her husband’s extended family meets at a location that moves around from year to year. They have Thanksgiving dinner, then as soon as it is over, it is Christmas. With a Christmas tree in the background, they celebrate Christmas with a $10 grab bag gift exchange. They even used to sing Christmas carols after dinner, but that tradition died out.
Actual Christmas, then, becomes a gathering of close relatives. But even that can be difficult with busy schedules and long distances. This year the Gordens will celebrate Christmas three days after the actual day because that is when their granddaughter, who just moved to South Dakota, can be there.
Schedules and distance have also played a role in Pauline Golick’s holiday plans for many years. Her son moved to Nebraska more than 35 years ago, and when she retired 20 years ago she and her husband started traveling to Nebraska most years to have Thanksgiving with him and his family.
In recent years, her daughter-in-law’s work schedule has made it impossible for her son’s family to come back to Iowa for Christmas. Because of that, she makes it a point to get to Nebraska for Thanksgiving and also to do Christmas shopping for them while she is there.
“I just do my Christmas shopping with them so they have their Christmas,” she says.
Golick spends actual Christmas with her daughter, who lives in Des Moines.
Golick’s journey to Nebraska has become more arduous over the years. Because her husband is deceased and she does not drive, she takes the train from Ottumwa. In the past she occasionally traveled with a friend who would get off in Omaha to spend Thanksgiving with her son, but more recently she has traveled alone.
But this year will be especially worth it: Golick will get to see her twin 7-month-old great-grandchildren for only the second time.
Kids World, a nonprofit licensed daycare/preschool in Centerville, starts teaching children about the importance of holidays, including Thanksgiving, when they are very young.
Director Terri Johnson says it can be more difficult to find Thanksgiving materials for children, such as window clings, than it is for other holidays. Often, she says, she observes an impulse to go straight from Halloween to Christmas, but she thinks it is important to slow down and enjoy Thanksgiving.
“Be thankful for Thanksgiving — it’s so important,” she says.
She says the school tries to get families involved as much as possible. For example, they send home a project about what each family’s Thanksgiving traditions are that the children then share with their classes. Another project she says the children enjoy a lot involves making construction-paper turkeys and then coming up with creative disguises for the turkeys so they won’t get eaten on Thanksgiving.
“We talk about being thankful,” she says. “That is something they can understand. They can kind of get the history of it, but at this age they are thankful for their families and their friends and their toys.”
Rebeca Braster works with toddlers at Kids World. In her class, children make puppet turkeys and sing songs about turkeys. She reads a book to them that shows a family getting together and eating a turkey for Thanksgiving.
“They don’t understand the concept of Thanksgiving yet, so the turkey is our main theme,” she says.
In Dawn Johnson’s preschool classroom, the children focus on the idea of families getting together rather than on the origins of the holiday.
“History is hard for preschoolers to understand because they have only been alive for three years,” she says.
One way the school does this is by having a soup supper where the children’s families bring crock pots of soup and celebrate the season by having a feast together. This year the soup supper will be Nov. 29.
“Lots of times the kids talk about each other at home, but the parents don’t know each other,” she says. “We had an awesome turnout last year.”
The school also has a more traditional Thanksgiving dinner before the holiday with the traditional Thanksgiving foods.
“We do talk about the Pilgrims and Native Americans, too, but it is just hard for them,” she says. “If you talk about families, that means something to them.”
She says one of the children’s favorite activities is cooking, and in November the children make pumpkin bread and take it home to their families.
Seven years ago, when she was about to have twins, Becky Cline started a new Thanksgiving tradition: preparing for Black Friday.
“When I was pregnant with the girls, I realized we were going to have to start saving money if we were going to have a good Christmas,” she says.
Now, she says, Black Friday is her favorite day of the year. She does not start her Christmas shopping until that day, and she basically gets it all done at once.
Black Friday preparations start as soon as Thanksgiving dinner ends. She and her sister, Nicki Cline, and her cousin, Tabatha Unruh, spread out the ads on the dinner table and make a list of the items they want to try to get.
The next step, she says, is to map out their route. They decide who is going to go for which big item, like a television or a gaming system. Then they decide who will go for smaller items, like DVDs, pajamas in the right sizes and colors for all their children, and toys their children are interested in that year.
Another tradition the family has developed is the Black Friday purse. All three of the women ordered matching purses made out of old license plates with seatbelts for straps, and they only carry them on Black Friday. Cline says the rationale is that it is so small it only holds what they really need: their credit cards and their car keys.
And the metal purses may come in handy in another way, too.
“The joke in our family is it is hard, so if anybody gets in our way, we’ll knock them out,” she says with a laugh.
Cline says some of her best deals so far were getting a $150 toolbox for $75 and $130 Power Wheel Jeeps for $88. She bought each of her daughters a Leapster, an educational game system, for $25 each when they were originally $50 each.
She says she has never failed to get an item she was really going for, though the first year when she was pregnant she backed away from the crowd to avoid getting pushed. In recent years, she has been more aggressive.
“People got mad over the toolboxes,” she says. “I got the last toolbox and had to sit on it to get it.”
Black Friday has changed over the years from starting in the early morning to starting the second Thanksgiving is over, at least at some stores. Now Cline and her relatives don’t even get an opportunity to sleep that night as they visit stores that open at midnight and other stores that open at 4 a.m.
“The stores are starting to mess up our hours,” she says. “We used to be able to go at 4 in the morning and get all of them, but last year and the year before we had to stay up the entire night.”