Thanksgiving traditions unable to stand test of time, technology

Tuesday, November 24, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 12:10 p.m. CST, Friday, November 27, 2009

I probably won‘t make it through Thanksgiving without someone calling me from someplace like Florida or California to let me know that he  or she had Thanksgiving dinner on the beach. Actually, I won’t mind the dig. I’m happy being in Missouri expecting the snow to arrive any moment.

Several years ago, I considered Thanksgiving on the beach a bizarre way to spend a winter holiday, but I don’t feel that way anymore. The holidays of my life have changed so much over the years that anything that happens hardly surprises me.

In the old days, the routine seldom varied from year to year. Then, the family began arriving the day before the holiday. On Thanksgiving eve, we would have the catch-up party where we’d bring each other up-to-date on what was going on in our lives. We were a family that enjoyed each other’s company and everyone usually brought something interesting to the discussion. The following morning we would wake up to the smells of turkey baking , cornbread dressing and pumpkin pie emerging from the kitchen and we all knew the big day had arrived.

When you come from a large family and have spent so many of your holidays with a big crowd, it’s difficult to adjust to the changes that come over time. The loss of family members is especially hard to deal with at holiday time.

In my early years I lived with all of my siblings in Kansas City and it was less than a two-hour drive to our mother’s house. There was never a question in anyone’s mind that we would all go home for Thanksgiving. When my sister passed away in 1967 all that began to change. One by one my family began to relocate to Minnesota and by the time my mother passed away in the late 1970s, Thanksgiving had become merely a shadow of its old self.

Loss of family, of course, has played a major role in changing my holidays, but I also think that other lifestyle changes have had a serious effect on the way I feel during this period. For one thing, there have been changes in the way families communicate with each other. There were the years when handwritten letters traveled between family members every month, spreading the news about births and anniversaries. There were the Sunday telephone calls where you heard the sound of your loved ones' voices. I truly think the loss of these personal connections have created distances between family members that are hard to bridge. Somehow, all the e-mails in the world cannot replace one face-to-face meeting with someone you love or the sound of their voice.

To be sure, technology has made our lives easier, but it has also made our world a less human place to be. My brother and I were best friends and I can remember the night he drove 500 miles to confide something of importance to me because he wanted to see the expression on my face when he told me. Perhaps some people still do things like that, but I haven’t heard anyone speak of it. Does anyone even believe that such things are important anymore?

Still, I think it’s the disappearance of those little personal touches that have radically affected the way we feel about each other. I can remember all the trips I made to see my mother who lived a short distance away when a telephone call would have sufficed. But her presence was important to me. There was something about being in the same room with her that made a difference in the way I felt about our discussion. There was the intimacy of our sharing that added a special significance to the moment.

In any case, I don’t think it is the loss of the largeness of the occasion that causes my melancholy but the depth of it. I still enjoy lovely holidays with family and friends. But, I think that the history I shared with my siblings was totally different than the life I share with people today. We grew up in a different era when our survival as a family depended on our devotion and dedication to each other. Now, that may be old-fashioned, but for what it’s worth I believe it was a good and precious thing.

And the privilege of growing up in a wonderful family is one of the things I give thanks for every day of my life. And the memory of all the wonderful Thanksgivings that I have known remains close to my heart.

Have a wonderful and joyous holiday.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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