My Family's Non-Traditional Thanksgiving Traditions

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I have always wondered what it's like to have a Thanksgiving meal like those out of a movie scene.

The table is set with the special china, and family members dressed in their Sunday best or better come to sit down together. They enjoy a traditional dinner of stuffed turkey that requires carving, and pass bowls of mashed potatoes, cranberry relish and buttered rolls. A slice of cinnamon-laced pumpkin pie completes the evening.

I guess I'll keep wondering. Out of the three Thanksgiving gatherings my family regularly attends, not one gets very close to this idyllic holiday setting.

First up is Thanksgiving at my mother-in-law's home. At 11:00 a.m.

Breakfast is barely over when we get there and Santa has yet to make his appearance at the Macy's parade, so it is a bit early for full-fledged Thanksgiving feasting.

Instead, the focus is more on appetizers -- creamy bacon dips, pecan-coated cheese balls, cheddar sausage balls-- and desserts such as chocolate-covered pilgrim hat cookies, rich custards and triple-layer cakes. The usual Thanksgiving food is there, too. It just plays a supporting role instead of taking the lead. At least, for me.

Next, my family heads to my grandmother's house. This is the most intimate get-together based on the number of people. Though served buffet style on disposable plates, I'll admit, the food is fairly traditional.

We have turkey (pre-sliced), cornbread dressing, cranberries, corn, green beans, sweet potatoes, congealed fruit salad and rolls. In an effort to keep all the picky eaters satisfied, my Granny prepares at least two versions of each dish with the exception of the turkey and the rolls.

We have three pans of dressing -- one with turkey but without eggs, one with no meat and no eggs and one with everything. Sweet potatoes come topped with toasted marshmallows, candied pecans or nothing at all. I prefer fresh cranberries simmered in sugar water over the canned stuff everyone else likes.

After this semi-custom meal, the final stop in our Thanksgiving rotation is my husband's extended family.

Here we actually have a carved turkey, but it's sliced by someone standing at a counter not sitting at a table. The accompanying sides are somewhat expected with a few new recipes and different flavors added to keep it interesting

What stands out here are the pies. They are simple pumpkin and pecan, as traditional as possible. The thing is, there are a lot of them, stacked high on tables up to my eye level.

If you come to this Thanksgiving party, you don't leave without pie, preferably one or more of each kind. I've learned they make a great breakfast on Black Friday.

At the end of the day, I still manage to take in all the traditional foods you would expect to enjoy on Thanksgiving. I just eat them at different times and at different tables or sofas or porch swings. You sit where you can with my families.

It wouldn't feel like Thanksgiving if it didn't happen this way.

These meals, with the themed dessert plates, three types of sweet potatoes and stacks of pies, have become my holiday traditions.

I think I'll leave the picture-perfect feasts for the big screen.

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