As family and friends come together for Thanksgiving, the scene will be similar across many homes in Altoona and beyond.
The table will be set with a turkey feast accompanied by all of the savory trimmings, followed by decadent pies and desserts. Some will then settle into couches to watch football, while others will attempt to work off those calories by actually playing the game.
It’s a day that’s steeped in tradition. But while turkey, pie and football are annual favorites for many, there are also unique customs that individuals and families partake in. That can include a pre-meal workout, going sledding or prepping for a Black Friday shopping spree. For Mattia Hansen’s family, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a friendly competition to see who makes the best cinnamon rolls.
A Turkey Day filled with cinnamon rolls
Mattia Hansen’s Thanksgiving has a little bit of everything.
There’s some exercise, some football, some Apples to Apples (a board game) and… some cinnamon rolls.
“We have enough cinnamon rolls to feed the neighborhood,” Hansen says of the annual competition pitting her cinnamon rolls against her uncle’s. “The winner has yet to be determined, because everybody says they’re both so good.”
But before they can get to the baking battle, Hansen’s morning includes taking classes at Altoona Campus, where she works. It’s something she’s been doing for two years.
“It makes me feel less guilty for all the good food I eat that day,” she says.
Then comes Thanksgiving lunch, which for the past couple years has been held at her mother’s home. If the weather is nice, they’ll later work off those calories in a family football game. They also like to play Apples to Apples.
“We always have a little family competition,” she says.
The cinnamon roll contest, in its third year, initially didn’t begin as a competition, Hansen says.
“It started out as some miscommunication on who was bringing cinnamon rolls… and we ended up with about 50 cinnamon rolls for 20 people. After that, it has been a big joke, and turned into a friendly competition.”
The secret to her rolls “is making them extra, extra gooey,” she explains, “and serving them warm is the key.”
Finding joy in family members’ fun
Tricia Welker’s Thanksgiving Day is a fairly typical one, filled with family, a plethora of food and football. While she enjoys eating and visiting with relatives at her parents’ home and her husband Jamie’s family get-together, she says the best part is watching others have fun.
In fact, Welker’s favorite part of Thanksgiving is watching her siblings’ appetites for dessert at her parents’.
“My two brothers will have to have a slice of everything, which means their plates will look like an entire pie,” she says. With her mom and grandma supplying pies and Welker bringing her turtle cheesecake, it’s an impressive sight.
She takes pictures of her brothers’ mixtures of decadent sweets, which, she adds, they do finish.
Dessert follows a hearty spread, most of which is made by Welker’s mom and served before the family on her mom’s big, Amish table, she says.
“There’s enough to feed an entire army. My mom will try to please everyone, so she sometimes will have three meats or three potato dishes.”
Food also abounds at the meal with her husband’s side of the family, a potluck-style celebration which takes place at his late grandmother’s home. There have been times where three types of turkey — grilled, smoked and deep-fat fried — were served, along with large roasters of food.
Their traditions include taking a moment to have everyone share what they’re thankful for, she says. And while the guys watch football, the women comb through the Black Friday advertisements, crafting an itinerary of where they’re going to go and what they’re going to buy.
“It’s serious — it’s newspaper ads everywhere,” Welker says. “I enjoy watching that as much as I enjoy watching my brothers eat the pie.”
Traveling to see both sides of the family
Thanksgiving is a time of family, feasting and travel for the Stottses.
It’s double the festivities for Steve Stotts, his wife, Tammy, and their kids, Shelby, 21, and Tanner, 17. That’s because they make a stop to see both sides of their family — Steve’s in Norwalk, and Tammy’s at Lake Panorama.
“The night before Thanksgiving, we go to my wife’s parents’ house and we have potato soup,” says Steve, principal at Altoona Elementary. “On Thanksgiving Day — and the same with Christmas, too — we make sure that we’re able to see both sides of the family. We have two meals and two desserts — unfortunately, and fortunately.”
This is his favorite holiday of the year.
“I don’t feel as rushed at Thanksgiving,” versus at Christmas, he says. “And you’ve got to love that meal.”
In fact, some of his more vivid memories of Thanksgiving as a child have to do with food.
“When I was younger, we always had sweet potatoes, and my mom and grandmother always put roasted marshmallows on top,” Stotts remembers. “I never liked the sweet potatoes, so I always ate the marshmallows off the top. And I’ve never liked pumpkin pie, so I always have pecan pie instead.”
A laid back event
Johnnie Kennell is looking forward to a no-fuss Thanksgiving.
“I’ll hang out with family, watch football, throw a couple beers back and eat a lot of turkey,” Kennell says. The day will also include playing football with his nieces and nephews.
He and his wife, Ami, typically celebrate at one of their parents’ homes. This year, they’ll probably be
spending time with Ami’s side of the family, he says.
The one thing the Hawkeye fan is particularly looking forward to is the Iowa-Nebraska matchup, taking place the day after Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving in Cedar Rapids
Cedar Rapids is ground zero for Turkey Day festivities most years for Kari Atzen.
She and her two kids, Peyton, 13, and Riley, 10, return to Atzen’s hometown for a traditional get-together with her side of the family. Between 10 to 14 of them gather to chow down and have fun.
If it’s snowing, all of the cousins go sledding, Atzen says.
“There’s one big hill in Cedar Rapids that everyone likes to go to that’s near one of my sisters’ houses that we go to.”
If it’s sans snow, the kids play outside, and at night, the board games come out. She says their family is “pretty big” on Monopoly and card games.
There’s also a lot of football-watching over the weekend, as well as Black Friday shopping for Atzen with some of her old friends in Cedar Rapids.
The celebration used to be bigger when she was younger. But Atzen says there are benefits to a more intimate gathering.
“Now that I’m an adult, it’s much better, to me, to have a smaller group because you can actually sit and talk and catch up with everybody,” she says, adding that fewer people makes the games more manageable.
While Thanksgiving is enjoyable, there’s something distinct about Christmastime for Atzen.
“I think that there’s something a little more relaxed and special for the Christmas get-together,” she says. “I’m not sure exactly why that is…but it always seems like it’s a little bit more cozy and relaxed.”
A pre-emptive workout before the big meal
A day of feasting — and physical activity — await Amy McAllister.
On Thanksgiving Day, McAllister and her sister make time to get a substantial walk in — some four-and-a-half miles — around the lake their parents live on in Brooklyn, Iowa. It’s a tradition they began about 15 years ago, McAllister says.
“It started because we both are avid exercisers and felt better before we ate our big meal,” says McAllister, who works at Altoona Campus. “Also, the beautiful scenery around the lake and having an hour of ‘sister time’ makes it even more enjoyable.”
While they go on their walk, the kids play inside or outside, depending on the weather, while the men watch football.
The family of her husband, Brett McAllister, live in Texas, which means they generally spend the holiday with her parents, she says. They spend Thanksgiving with their four kids — Pyper, 10, Bailey, 9, Dallas, 8, and Addalyn, 4.
They have their meal around 1 or 2 p.m., and lie around the rest of the day.
“We’re pretty lazy after we eat,” she says.