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  • Writer's pictureellencdonker

A CELEBRATION TRANSITION by Ellen Donker

I’m looking to the young adults this year

When we moved into our house more than 20 years ago, the former owner told us it was a great home for parties. She was downsizing and recalled the many celebrations she had hosted when her husband was still alive and before her children were grown and flown.


She was right. My husband and I have thrown more parties than we can recall and enjoyed them all. There were birthday parties, Fourth of July shebangs, carol sings, and the usual Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. Now that our kids are out of college, we are getting closer to being able to pass the baton – when they can take family traditions and reinterpret them at their own homes – but we aren’t quite there yet.


So, for this holiday season, I’m on duty. Usually, it’s just for Christmas Eve, when we invite both sides of the family for a sit-down dinner. Because of all the effort that celebration takes, we usually save our strength and have a small gathering for Thanksgiving. But this year, my three kids and their cousins started texting each other in early October about having turkey day at our house.

The logic ran something like this: They had had such a great time here in July celebrating their grandmother’s 90th birthday. And since the effects of Hurricane Ian forced her to trade her home in Sanibel, Florida for New Jersey this winter, they were thrilled she’d be right here with us again. Wouldn’t it be nice to all be together and make even more family memories? In Maplewood? (Did I mention I have siblings with homes in Northern NJ?)


The cousins knew that this was a big ask – Christmas Eve is a mere four weeks later – so, to sweeten the deal, they offered to have the meal catered. Although that might seem like a dream to some, in my opinion, Thanksgiving dinner should be homemade. We want my husband’s mashed potatoes, my mother’s corn pudding and my pecan pie. Maybe not my stuffing, but I’ll give it another go.


When I really thought about what the pain points for hosting another holiday dinner were, the words “clean up” flashed in my head like a bright neon sign. I wouldn’t mind making a turkey, a few sides and a dessert. Setting up isn’t so hard. But facing the piles of dishes and glasses and silverware and used napkins when I’m already spent from the preparation – that was the showstopper.


So I made my counteroffer: If I set up and cooked some of the meal, my nieces and nephews – who are all in their 20s – would be in charge of filling in the menu with a few other dishes and cleaning up. No tip-toeing out the front door before the last glass is dry. Sensing a fair deal, they all texted back immediately with an emphatic yes. Or whatever emojis or memes signify that they got their way.


I’m already thinking of ways to make expectations for the clean-up clear. Perhaps a Signup Genius is in order with each 20-something signing up for a different responsibility. Or I can greet them at the door with a big poster and a Sharpie pen so they can choose their chore and I won’t have to hover.


I have great confidence that the cousins will have fun taking part-ownership of a family celebration. But regardless of how it turns out, most important to me is knowing that our next generation wants to be together. This is what I hoped for when they were small: that they become friends, trade silly stories, learn from their grandparents, aunts and uncles, and continue family traditions.


By the time you read this, Thanksgiving will have passed and I will be planning for Christmas Eve. I’m hoping to enlist the 20-somethings for a repeat performance.

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