Celebrating Thanksgiving with traditions, both old and new

by Stacia Friedman
Posted 11/25/21

This Thanksgiving will be different for many of us. For some, it will be the first time since the pandemic started that they will be setting the table for relatives coming from afar.

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Celebrating Thanksgiving with traditions, both old and new


This Thanksgiving will be different for many of us. For some, it will be the first time since the pandemic started that they will be setting the table for relatives coming from afar. For those with health issues, there will be a continued concern for Covid safety, refraining from large gatherings. 

Mt. Airy writer and artist Betsey Teutsch and her husband, professor and author, Rabbi David Teutsch, look forward to an expanded Thanksgiving dinner this year. “Last year, we were six, just my husband and I and our daughter and her family, with whom we were ‘podded.’ This year, our son from DC will join us with his family and we also have cousins coming in from London,” said Teutsch. 

The menu? Vegetarian. “We all eat turkey but no one likes it that well, and since we keep kosher, having turkey means no dairy. So we are having French Onion soup for our starter and a mushroom galette, plus all the sides,” said Teutsch.

The Local spoke with the Teutsch family and several other members of local Houses of Worship about how this year feels different. After the past year and a half of pandemic stress, the one thing that almost everyone agreed on is how grateful people are for all that they have, they said, and that feeling of gratitude has fueled a strong impulse to reach out to those in need. 

On Sunday, Nov. 21, congregants of Saint Martin’s kicked off the holiday week by donating non-perishable foods on “Fill the Truck Sunday.” Proceeds will go to food programs at St. Luke’s in Germantown. Members were encouraged to donate foods that went beyond the scope of Thanksgiving so that shelves will be stocked for weeks and months ahead.

“Our printed program on Thanksgiving day will include a special acknowledgment about the Native American land on which our church was built,” said Rev. Jarrett Kerbel. “We want to recognize the Lenape and Delaware peoples whose stewardship of the land predates where we now worship and live. This church community strives to understand our place within the legacy of colonization and to act as allies to Lenape people and their vibrant communities today. This message was adapted from one originally published by the Philadelphia Museum of Art.”

This is just one of many outreach efforts by Saint Martins, which includes their participation in Refugee Resettlement, Guatemala Ministry and Gun Violence prevention. As a parish community the Church has made more than $900,000 in grants and charitable giving in the last ten years through its Community Engagement Ministry. This includes support of the St. James School, a private school serving grades 4 to 8 in the  Ridge/Allegheny/Hunting Park area, at no cost to the families.

At the Germantown Jewish Centre, the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam, Hebrew for “repair the world,” is the motivating force behind this congregation’s ongoing involvement in social action and justice.

Congregant Seth Lieberman, a leadership consultant, volunteers his time to turn this principle into policies that target racism and refugee resettlement. “Three years ago, we met with Rep. Dwight Evans to express our concern about the Muslim refugee ban and interment of refugees at the Texas border during the Trump Administration,” said Lieberman. “Since then, we have met with all six representatives in Greater Philadelphia to express our concerns which now include the denial of asylum to Haitian refugees.”

Lieberman said his group is now working with HIAS PA, a Jewish organization that provides humanitarian aid to refugees, regardless of religion or ethnicity. “We are working with HIAS PA to help refugees unable to flee Afghanistan who are under constant threat. Most of these refugees have family members in the United States but they require financial support to enter our country.”  

“As Jews, we all share a painful history as refugees,” said Lieberman. Beside supporting refugees trapped in Afghanistan, volunteers at Germantown Jewish Centre are also involved in relocating and supporting refugee families currently living on American military bases.

For some, a renewal of Thanksgiving traditions brings comfort, and a feeling of community. At Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church, it also means putting up Christmas decorations, and inviting children to participate in the creation of Advent Wreaths. On Sunday Nov. 21st, following services, the congregation enjoyed a pancake brunch in the auditorium while parents guided children in making wreaths from evergreen boughs and brightly colored red berries. 

Advent wreaths date back to German Lutherans in the 16th century, however it was not until the 19th century that the modern wreath became popular. Unlike Christmas wreaths, advent wreaths are not placed on front doors. They are a centerpiece on dining room tables or fireplace mantels, containing one candle for each of the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day.

While the children were engaged in wreath making and families enjoyed brunch, it was the artwork displayed on the auditorium walls that signaled the Church’s commitment to social justice. Created by professional artists, each painting was a compelling portrait of a young, brown-skinned man, whose life was cut short by gun violence. The “Souls Shot Portrait Project” reflects the Church’s commitment to end the tragic murder of our City’s youth by gun violence. To date, there have been 488 homicides in Philadelphia this year, an increase of 12%. 

Gathered around one of the dozens of tables was Sandy and George Connelly, Becky and Graeme Frazier and the family matriarch Barbara Frazier. Members of the Church for over fifty years, Sandy and Becky are looking forward to their Thanksgiving plans. 

“On the first night, I’ll host twelve family members,” said Sandy, “But Becky is organizing the second day. She’s hosting twenty-two guests.”

“It will be a fun sports competition with two teams,” explained Becky. “Other families play touch football. We’ll play pickleball, crochet, paddle balls, tennis and golf at the Cricket Club. Then, we’ll go back to our house for pulled pork and vegetarian chili.” 

This is nothing new for Becky, who last year hosted an outdoor Thanksgiving with three fire pits for warmth. 

Still others are celebrating by repeating the creative solutions to the traditional holiday celebration that they came up with last year. Judy Rubin and her partner Debs Bleicher of Mt Airy skipped their usual large gathering and headed to Longwood Gardens, where “it turned out to be the most peaceful, quietly festive and delightful day,” said Rubin. “We dined in the Longwood Gardens Cafe and had a delicious turkey dinner with all the trimmings with a lovely view of the gardens. After dinner, we walked around the gardens and inside the Conservatory. We will do that again this year.”

No matter how you celebrate the holiday, the Local wishes all our readers a Happy Thanksgiving with all the trimmings.