Thanksgiving traditions are often passed from one generation to the next. Whether via a family recipe, a morning football game or a favorite dish, sharing a piece of holiday history helps families stay connected.
“I think traditions are important to me as they are the roots of my being. They ground me. They remind me of the generations and the people who have passed through our tables through the years,” said Kathy Fox-Laskowiecki, a native of Chicago's East Side and Hegewisch neighborhoods. “I am very blessed to have shared and broke bread with so many people through my life. I hope that my children will remember always to give thanks to God and to help those that may need a warm meal, a place to hang out and feel the love that we have.”
Fox-Laskowiecki’s mother worked as a waitress and bartender and taught her family that not everyone is lucky enough to have family to share the holidays with. She opened their home to everyone who needed a place to spend the holiday and now Fox-Laskowiecki is teaching her children to do the same.
“There is always plenty of food at our table to have room for one more,” she said.
A Thanksgiving morning football game is the tradition that keeps another group of families together. The game, which dates back almost 90 years, has been played by four generations of families.
Colleen Ziemkowski, of Lansing, said that it all started with her grandfather’s Boy Scout Troop 520, which met at Southfield Methodist Church in Chicago. The troop had a father-son football game on Thanksgiving morning and her great grandfather took her grandpa. The first game took place in 1925.
As years passed, the game turned into a tradition with the original families meeting at 9 a.m. every Thanksgiving morning at Dan Ryan Woods, she said. They team up the “old men vs. young men.”
“Inevitably, the old guys claim they win every year and the young guys claim they win.”
Afterward, the men go to nearby bar where staff members are always expecting them and have turkey sandwiches prepared, a prelude to the Thanksgiving dinners they’ll eat later.
The original families included the Clays, Hansons, Hilpes and Petrowskis. Through marriages and over the years, they added the Ziemkowskis, Tennicotts, Staleys, Haggards and Konkols.
The Kline and Scott families moved out of state but still receive a phone call from their football buddies on Thanksgiving.
“You don’t bring people in. It’s a family thing. They’re real selective of who they bring into the football game.”
Her dad, husband, brothers and son now play with other groups of families doing the same and Ziemkowski said she knows the games will continue for at least another 90 years.
“Nobody questions it. You just show up and if somebody new shows up, that person is pretty special to be able to be a part of this.”
John Koza, a resident of Chicago’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said Thanksgiving is a special time for family to get together. He remembered, “when my parents got a little older, they would cook the main dish and then my brothers and I would bring the side dishes. When the parents died, everybody did their own stuff but it was good while it lasted.”
His family’s meal included turkey, prime rib and Polish sausage, a nod to their Polish roots. “My ma used to get salad dressing from Steve’s (Lounge and Banquet Hall in Hegewisch.)”
Koza said traditions are important because they reflect how older generations were and “how the family can stay together even though you change and get older.”
Donna Vega Raykovich, of Munster, said she spends Thanksgiving with four families. She - along with her husband, Timothy, and sons Timmy, 8, and Sammy, 4 - celebrate with her sister, her sister-in-law and her older nieces and nephews.
She wants her children to carry on the tradition that the holiday should always be filled with family and relatives. A special food their family shares is a stuffing that her husband’s mother made with a recipe from a close relative.
“It’s a special type of bread stuffing. That is something that is probably the most traditional of all the things we eat there at Thanksgiving,” she said. Her sister-in-law also brings another traditional family dish - chicken soup with little, homemade noodles.
“My husband’s mother always did that and we have that early on in the day or the night before.”
Food is an important part of Thanksgiving traditions for many families. Fox-Laskowiecki said she hopes one day her children will say, “we have to have green bean casserole because mom's grandma always did.” She said it’s like the can of cranberries she buys every year for the Thanksgiving table because her mom loved the cranberries.
“Even though we don't eat them, someone usually takes a spoonful, and, you know what, that makes me happy. And you know maybe my mom was right, and one day I will enjoy cranberries like she did.”