I was a young wife setting up house in Vermont when I bought the turkey platter. I've forgotten where it came from, but I remember what it meant: Along with the gravy boat and the dish for the cranberry sauce, it was proof that I was at last an adult.
Twenty-five years later, I packed up the platter to bring to my daughter's house, a few hours' drive away. Nearing the due date for her first baby, she had to stay close to home, and as I stood in her kitchen watching her unpack that tray, it struck me: big platter, bigger rite of passage. My child, now a woman about to have a child herself, was taking over the holiday feast.
And I had no regrets. I'd had a great run playing the Holiday Queen, but in my experience, it's a role daughters are happy to inherit—and, a generation later, even happier to pass on. Holiday pleasures have a way of becoming holiday pressures; happy impulses stiffen into habits.
I didn't want that to happen, so gradually, over time, I made changes. One year, after we had moved to California and I was dreading the idea of the family's being trapped at the table for hours on end, I moved dinner to the park. The kids ran around and played while the adults lounged on blankets and lingered over the meal, picnic style. No need to tidy up the house before we ate; we were in nature's house. It was perfect.
In subsequent years, the changes continued: There were more picnics, a few potlucks, and even—sacrilege!—eating out. And they kept going until the day the turkey platter came to rest at my daughter's house.
That year, she had no qualms about doing things her way. Yes, there was a nod to family custom with the cornbread stuffing, but she roasted the turkey breast-side down "to keep the white meat moist, Mom." She was right. It was comforting to see the familiar dish still at the center of the table. But more than anything, I loved how my daughter made the family feast her own by using my recipe for cooking (and for living): Season to taste. Read more ways to play with tradition