Thanksgiving Traditions with a Twist
While many families sleep in or watch the parades on Thanksgiving Day, Eric Cooper and his family lace up their running shoes and head to The Great Turkey Challenge 5K Run/Walk benefiting the San Antonio Food Bank.
Cooper, president of the Food Bank, and his wife rouse their five children, ages 10 to 20, from slumber. If the weather is nippy, they don jackets, gloves and hats and race alongside more than 2,000 participants.
“The excitement of coming together with the community is something that drives my children out of bed,” Cooper says. “The weather is always a question mark. Some years it’s beautiful, and some years it’s kind of cold. But no matter what the weather is, the feelings are warm.”
Cheering for a favorite football team and feasting on turkey are time-honored American Thanksgiving Day customs. But some local families go beyond the norm and share their own treasured traditions.
The Coopers are just one of many San Antonio families that go beyond the traditional time-honored American Thanksgiving Day customs of cheering for a favorite football team and feasting on turkey.
Running Against Hunger
The Great Turkey Challenge starts and finishes at the H-E-B Arsenal headquarters downtown. Funds generated by the kid- and dog-friendly event help to provide turkey dinners for families in need.
After passing the finish line and seeing the awards ceremony, Cooper and his family go to Whataburger for a late breakfast. His wife and kids go home to prepare Thanksgiving dinner while he lends a hand at the Food Bank kitchen at Haven for Hope homeless shelter where chefs and volunteers cook an enormous Thanksgiving spread.
“Sometimes one or two of my children will go with me to the shelter. So when we gather around our dinner table and say what we’re thankful for, they will comment on how grateful they are for the many blessings they have,” Cooper says.
Days before Thanksgiving, Julie Davenport and her teenage daughter begin making their holiday dinner dishes. They prepare cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, roasted butternut squash and pecan and apple pies with homemade crusts.
What their family won’t see on the table is a turkey.
“For us, Thanksgiving has always been about getting together with the ones we love and going around the table and saying what we are grateful for,” she says. “It’s about sharing great food and family time. And for us, it’s about doing that without eating an animal. That seems the right way to celebrate.”
Nearly 90 percent of Americans surveyed by the American Turkey Federation gobble up the big bird on the national holiday. Davenport says her family is not missing out on savoring delicious food. Her two kids and husband love her sweet potato and pecan cornbread, and she tops her mashed potatoes with gravy made by browning vegetable broth, flour and sage.
“The key to having no meat and having flavor is using lots of fresh herbs and what’s in-season,” she says. “We don’t miss the meat because Thanksgiving is all about the side dishes.”
When her son and daughter were young, Davenport would read to them “’Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving” by Dav Pilkey. In the lighthearted rhyming story, children go on a field trip to a turkey farm. When they realize the turkeys will be eaten, they smuggle the birds on their bus. Later, the turkeys enjoy a vegetarian dinner with the kids’ families.
“After reading the book, my kids and I would say that we saved the turkeys on Thanksgiving,” Davenport says.
Three Generations of Serving
For 20 years, Sandy McBride has served turkey and all the trimmings for The Raul Jimenez Thanksgiving Dinner in downtown San Antonio. For the last few years, her husband, adult daughter and two granddaughters have volunteered along with her at the event held at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.
“My family is there, and we are giving to others, and the kids love it,” McBride says. “They look forward to the fun of going out and being with other people. Every year, I say that I’m going to quit, but my granddaughters say, ‘No Grandma, don’t quit. We love it.’”
This year, McBride and her family will be among 4,000 volunteers who will give their time and effort to feed 25,000 people at the dinner that marks its 35th anniversary. Her granddaughters, ages 9 and 15, deliver drinks to the guests, serve bread rolls and assist at the serving line by scooping mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce.
The experience has given the girls a broader perspective about the needs of the San Antonio community, and they especially enjoy speaking to the elderly, McBride says.
“I know volunteering has made them both realize how fortunate they are to have the things they do,” she says. “They look everyone in the eye, and they don’t judge people by how they look. The guests bring their kids who are so grateful, and our grandkids see that. I’m proud of them for being willing to give up part of their Thanksgiving to serve others.”
Lisa Y. Taylor is a San Antonio freelance writer and mother of three daughters.