Thanksgiving dinner - old

Source: Creative Commons

Thanksgiving is fast approaching, and many families are looking forward to sharing a gastronomical smorgasbord with extended family members. Last year, AAA estimated that 43.6 million Americans journeyed 50 miles or more from home during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. In addition to keeping our U.S. travel industry in business, these individuals place a priority on – and understand the value of – family.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone gets along. Far from it; many of us have bribed a spouse or sibling into traversing across the country to see that one individual who, years ago, we were so glad to move away from. Yet as extended families (both functional and dysfunctional) reunite around the food-laden table, a phenomenon takes place as differences are briefly set aside and reminiscences take center stage. What better time to preserve those family memories?

  • Recordings
    One of the best ways to capitalize on this gathering is to record the conversations. After all, who is going to take the initiative to handwrite a summary of the day’s conversations on a full stomach while trying to watch the football game or snag a Black Friday deal? Although it may initially seem unnatural to many family members to have a digital recorder placed in front of them on the dinner table or a camcorder set up in the corner aimed at them, you will find that after about 10-15 minutes of talking about a favorite family memory, they will begin to relax and become less self-conscious. Tip: Be sure to have on hand extra charged batteries and memory cards.
  • Pictures
    Don’t underestimate the memory-jogging power of family photos. If you possess some old, unlabeled pictures and you can’t identify all of the people in the images, bring them with you to the gathering and ask older family members to help solve the mystery. Even if they can’t recall the names, they may recognize the background and share some additional interesting stories. Tip: In addition to taking the traditional group family photos at your gathering, take random pictures throughout the day, including the family members looking at the old photos.
  • Recipes
    Because Thanksgiving is synonymous with turkey and all of the trimmings, why not commemorate your relatives’ famous side dishes and desserts?  Notify them beforehand that you would like to obtain their recipes and ask them to bring copies to the gathering. If they’re tech savvy, you can set up an account with an online print-on-demand cookbook site and invite your relatives to enter the recipes there. Once all of you have entered the desired amount of recipes, you can create and order your own family cookbook.
  • Share
    Regardless of whether you do all of the above or just one aspect, don’t keep the information to yourself. Obtain everyone’s current snail mail, email and social media contact information before the gathering disperses. When you return home, make copies of the recordings, videos, photos, and/or recipes and send them to your extended family. Who knows? That might be the peace offering to remove that old family grudge.

The most important thing is for you to enjoy your holiday. Don’t become overzealous in your attempts to document family history; it will only cause you stress and annoy your family. Make it casual and fun, and even if you don’t solve the mystery of a photo or you forget to press “Record” on your camcorder, the important thing is that you get everyone talking about your family’s history, which can open the door for a new tradition at future family gatherings.