A New Thanksgiving Tradition

Growing up, Thanksgiving involved family, food, and repetition. Every year, the family would gather to make various kinds of pasta, “the gravy”, and meatballs. We did this from scratch with flour, egg, water, grinding meat, stewing tomatoes, etc. It was two days of work, but well worth the meal on Thanksgiving. My grandmother would take a few days before the holiday to make a decadent chocolate cake, again from scratch. She generally followed a recipe she found in a Bon Appetit magazine decades earlier. As any great cook will tell you, they interpret the recipe rather than follow it verbatim. Her interpretation was to make everything from scratch, the frosting and cake batter included. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade was always on the TV in the background.

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The Three Day Chocolate Decadence Cake, circa 1980s

The traditional American Thanksgiving involves lots of food, sitting around, and invariably a TV. I’ve attended holiday meals at friends and other family’s over the years. It generally involves lots of discussions, sitting around, and over-eating. In general, the same recipe is followed, regardless of where I was at the time. Over the prior few years, we’ve attended a great, traditional Thanksgiving meal and event at a friends house. It’s great to see friends year after year, see how their kids are doing, and catch up with everyone while sharing a well-prepared meal. Everyone brings their own dish to the meal, while the turkey is prepared by the man of the house.

One year, I was in Paris during Thanksgiving. My partner and I went out to celebrate the holiday; which in France is known as Thursday. As in, there is no holiday, it’s just another day of the week. There we were at Chez Jenny in Place de la République, enjoying a great meal of Alsatian cuisine. It was also great because we walked around Paris a bit after work, but before sitting down for the traditional Parisian mealtime of 20:00h. The waiter guessed I was an American by my French accent. Leave it to the French to provide amazing service and acknowledge the American holiday. While I missed the childhood routine of cooking, it was great to get some exercise before dinner.

Since moving to California, we’ve really decided to start exploring other options for meals. In past years, we still flew back to the East Coast to join the same friends. We’ve also tried a great meal at a vineyard in Cupertino with new friends. Last year, on a lark, we stayed at the Wawona Hotel in Yosemite National Park.

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The Wawona Hotel, Thanksgiving 2019

The Wawona Hotel is a traditional Victorian-era lodge near the Mariposa Grove and a short drive to the Valley itself. There are great rooms, no TVs, shared bathrooms, barely any WiFi, and no cell signal. It’s great for getting offline to disconnect for a bit. Wawona offers a fantastic Thanksgiving dinner. The staff is warm and generally hasn’t changed much over the years. The central fireplace is always roaring while Tom Bopp belts out the tunes and leads a sing-a-long most nights. Tom is an incredible character. He has an exceptional knowledge of tunes, melodies, music theory, and improvisation. His love of Yosemite matches his historical knowledge–and he can put it all to a tune for you. As for nature, there are hikes from the lodge, or a short ride to more trails anywhere in Yosemite.

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Deep snow hiking on Thanksgiving Day, 2019

The new tradition, in its second year, is to head to the Wawona for a few days for Thanksgiving. We generally plan increasingly difficult hikes for each day of the holiday. We plan a light day of hiking on Thanksgiving, so we’re good and hungry for dinner, but not pushing it too hard. Last year was fairly warm and just light snow flurries. We hiked both Yosemite Falls and Vernal Falls before Thanksgiving. This year was a full on winter storm, dumping about a meter of snow over three days. As Ran Fiennes says, “There is no bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. ” We hike regardless of the weather. Four wheel drive and layers of clothing will conquer any trail in any weather. 

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Yosemite Valley, or your OS X screensaver, Thanksgiving 2019

We always invite friends and family to join us in Yosemite. Yosemite is a beautiful park at all times of the year. Enjoy the pictures from the snowy wonderland it was this year. 

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