Growing up, Thanksgiving for my family meant two things: a rushed dinner followed by a road trip to that year's soccer tournament.
The Las Vegas Turkey Shoot, the San Diego Surf Cup and other tournaments became our family traditions. Eventually, we became adults and retired from soccer tournaments. We needed a new Thanksgiving tradition, and my dad stepped in with a new, cheesy one.
Or so we initially thought.
"One-page letters to the sibling you are giving to for Christmas," he said.
With such a large family, Christmas could become unruly, so we had created a game plan years ago to draw two names of family members to give gifts to for the holiday. When siblings married, their spouses were added to the annual drawing.
Now the drawing became both a Christmas gift and a Thanksgiving letter.
The first year, Dad harassed each of us to get our letters emailed to him so that he could print them up on nice paper. He was up late the night before, compiling them all.
After Thanksgiving dinner, we all sat down for our awkward letter revealing. At least, we felt that it would be awkward. A dozen sarcastic adults sat in silence, reading two letters each, written to them and about them. Siblings and in-laws wrote jokes, included stories and listed genuine compliments.
When the quiet reading finished, a little Thanksgiving miracle occurred: The sarcastic adults stood up and hugged the siblings and in-laws who had written them letters.
The new tradition had begun. Each year, we drew two names for Christmas gifts and planned to write them a Thanksgiving letter. At times, siblings were out-of-state, spending Thanksgiving with their in-laws, so they missed the post-letter-reading hugs. Each year, Dad harassed us to get him the letters as procrastination ruled. Each year, everybody wrote their letters and they were appreciative, positive letters.
This year, Dad mixed things up by introducing the Thanksgiving letter spreadsheet. His matrix helped organize the writing so you weren't rehashing compliments to the same person that you complimented the year before. This is the Thanksgiving tradition of a seasoned project manager.
And the miracle will still occur: The sarcastic adults will hug each other and say "thank you" after reading the letters. People will love each other and then they will go back to competing over fantasy football.
Lauren Elkins writes randomly on her blog, tweets periodically about who knows what and spends her regular days conversing with computer programmers. By the time she gets home at night, she is mighty happy to see her husband and son.