Peace, joy, and cheese balls

This essay first appeared in the November 20, 2017 issue of The Drafting Desk.

Every Thanksgiving Day, my side of the family gathers at the same home we moved into when I was five and participates in one of our most sacred and meaningful holiday traditions.

My four sisters, husband, niece, nephew, and brothers-in-law (and now, my own children too), circle up, lay down some ground rules, and begin… our annual cheese ball competition.

That’s right—not joining hands and going around the table saying what we’re thankful for, not baking pumpkin pie together, not making handprint turkeys with the kids.

No, we commemorate this day of gratitude by lining up to take turns seeing how many cheese balls we can consecutively catch in our mouths. (Three misses, and it’s on to the next player.)

I’ll wait while you pin the idea to your Thanksgiving board on Pinterest.

At this point it feels like something we’ve just always done, and I can’t recall the year this tradition started. But I do know that every November, as we laugh and make fools of ourselves diving for cheese puffs in my mom’s kitchen (last year we had to move it to the driveway because of the mess), we all think of my grandmother.

Grandma Faith always showed up to Thanksgiving dinner with a container of cheese balls for my little sister and me. We would say our obligatory thank-yous and look at each other and giggle—why did she always bring cheese balls? Of course, we realized as we got older, the gift of artificial cheesy goodness was her way of spoiling us—a special treat, like grandmas are supposed to give their grandkids.

It became one of those endearing things about her and one of the first things that comes to mind now when I remember her, along with the rainbow ornament she kept dangling from her rearview mirror and the way she never looked directly at the camera for a photo.

She passed away when I was in middle school. But somewhere along the line, years later, my sister Ashley showed up to our parents’ house on Thanksgiving with not a pie or stuffing, but a big ol’ tub of cheese balls—maybe the most meaningful contribution to our spread.

By this point, all of my siblings and I were adults (though maybe not the most mature bunch). What else was there to do with that many cheese puffs, but start tossing them at each other?

So we did. And we’ve done it every year since.

Have you ever felt like everyone else has incredibly picture-perfect, creative, meaningful, Christ-centered holiday traditions—while you’re over here throwing cheesy snacks at your siblings and calling it festive?

Just me?

There have been years when I’ve started a list of all the memory-making must-dos once October rolled around, Thanksgiving and Christmas right on its tail: visit a pumpkin patch, wander through a corn maze, share our thankful lists around the dinner table, choose the perfect tree and decorate it while listening to carols, make salt-dough ornaments, bake the best gingerbread cookies ever, drive around looking at lights and drinking hot chocolate, read Luke 2 together on Christmas morning over homemade breakfast.

And of course, it would all need to be documented on camera, and everyone would need to be happy and smiling.

It’s Thanksgiving—be grateful! It’s Christmas—be joyful! We’re making memories here, people!

This was no way to celebrate, but it was an effective way to make everyone around me miserable.

Can I share a small bit of advice, from lessons learned the hard way?

If the pressure to create deep and significant traditions this season (or even to just keep existing ones alive) is getting to you, maybe don’t consult the internet for ideas this year. Maybe take a breather from forced memory-making, put the camera down, embrace spontaneity, and let things get messy.

Maybe in the middle of it, you’ll discover something special that matters only to you and your people. Like cheese balls flying all over the kitchen.

Maybe the sweetest holiday rhythms don’t need to mean a thing to anyone but you.

Once a month, my friend Lindsey and I share stories like this one—along with links to writing we love, Scripture, music, and more—in an email we call The Drafting Desk. Come check it out.


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