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Written by:  Michael Huie
Date: November 1, 2007

There are some traditions that have staying power, and the Thanksgiving holiday is one of the sturdiest. The uniquely American celebration of food, family and football is the unofficial opening to the holiday season.

But more than a few Triad families celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday in a different way. More and more families are venturing out to open restaurants instead of cooking at home, and some families create their own traditions.

Despite the time with family and friends, Thanksgiving can be pretty stressful. For those stuck in airports or interstate highways on Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the turkey seems miles away. Some families, though, decide to get away from it all and take a vacation or even a cruise over the five-day Thanksgiving weekend.

Beth Snow, a leisure agent for Aladdin Travel in Winston-Salem, says her agency has a number of clients who choose to get away from the holiday stress. Some families take annual ski trips over Thanksgiving, while others opt for a cruise to a warmer climate.

“There are families that like to do that every year, they usually plan it in advance,” Snow said. “They have it in their mind that they want the same condo or hotel room, and they just book it every year.”

Snow says that many cruise lines are becoming more family-friendly. She says Royal Caribbean International is one that caters to families with children. Royal Caribbean features playgroups for children up to 36 months old and educational activities for kids from ages 3 to 17. One of their packages even features a teens-only nightclub.

For Kendra Kennedy, 37, Thanksgiving is a chance to see all of her extended family, including great-grandparents and children. Even though some family members are based in Winston-Salem, others live in various parts of North Carolina. So, the group always meets for Thanksgiving in a vacation spot. For 10 years in a row, her family spent Thanksgiving in Myrtle Beach, S.C. The past three years, her family met at an airport and has flown together to New York City. Kennedy says the stress of planning a big Thanksgiving meal for the group convinced them to turn the long weekend into a vacation.

“It was also such an ordeal to decide who was hosting and what everyone was going to bring,” Kennedy said.

Her family also turns Thanksgiving dinner plans into a fun competition. Everyone in the family puts the name of one restaurant in the destination city into a hat, and a winner is chosen.

“In tourist locations, there are many choices for restaurants on Thanksgiving,” she said.

This year Kennedy and her family are returning to Myrtle Beach. She says the key to beating the holiday travel rush is to plan in advance. Her family is already looking at a trip to Asheville in 2008.

“It’s having a memory versus having a lot of guests,” Snow said. “In the long run it’s going to be treasured a lot more.”

For David and Marie Linton’s family, Thanksgiving this past year meant giving back to the less fortunate in the community. The Lintons spent the Thanksgiving afternoon and night at the Samaritan Ministries in Winston-Salem. During the afternoon, they served a Thanksgiving meal in the soup kitchen and then spent the night at the Samaritan Inn shelter. Samaritan Ministries is an interdenominational ministry that serves the needs of homeless people in the community 365 days a year.

David says typically they spend Thanksgiving with their two children, Anna Marie, 17, and Riley Morgan, 21, and close friends.

“We refer to ourselves as ‘orphans’ in Winston, and the way we mean that is we don’t have any immediate family here,” David said. “We decided since we don’t have any family in town we thought, well what better way to be with other people.

“It doesn’t matter if you know them or not, they’re God’s people.”
The Lintons had an early Thanksgiving lunch and headed to the Samaritan Ministries where they helped set up tables and the food-service line for the evening meal. Once the soup kitchen opened, they helped serve a traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce to the patrons.

After the meal, the Lintons and other volunteers cleaned up tables and got ready for their evening in the shelter. During the night, volunteers take two-hour shifts sitting at the front desk, monitoring the shelter.

Robin Mende is the volunteer administrative assistant at Samaritan Ministries. She says that the organization has many people who want to volunteer over Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays. On Thanksgiving Day, she says the soup kitchen serves about 300 people.

“There are a lot of people that come and eat on Thanksgiving, and they consider the soup kitchen their family, too,” Mende said.

David says he and his family had served meals at the soup kitchen before, but being there on Thanksgiving Day felt a bit more special.

“It was a way to be of service. It’s a real time to be grateful for all the blessings we do have, and this was a good way to be thankful. It made the day more special, because we could not only give thanks in our prayers and our thoughts, but we could also in our actions.”

Mende and her husband and two children began volunteering at the soup kitchen 11 years ago. The Samaritan Ministries asks that children be in the 7th grade or above in order to volunteer, but she says many parents want their children to have the experience of volunteering over the holidays.

“A lot of people want their children to see how fortunate they are,” Mende said. “I think for a teenager it’s a lot harder to realize that not everybody has it the way you do.”

Michael Huie, who lives in Winston-Salem, is a freelance writer and father of one.


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