Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate the things we value most in life. For my Californian extended family, turkey and football aren’t exactly at the top of that list. Instead, we cherish healthy food, good wine, time spent outdoors, and time spent laughing together. Each year we head to my aunt and uncle’s beautiful old ranch on the Santa Barbara coast to catch up, cook, eat, and play.
Rule #1 of California Thanksgiving- Eat outside
No matter how cold it is, Thanksgiving dinner is enjoyed outdoors. We pull a bunch of wooden picnic tables together under the Eucalyptus trees and cover them with tablecloths, flowers, dried leaves, and candles. We wrap up in warm jackets and put on our thick socks, and keep a fire going in the fire pit. There’s nothing like enjoying the festivities with the sound of the waves crashing in the distance and the breeze rustling the leaves.
Rule #2 of California Thanksgiving- Don’t forget about the vegetarians
In our family, there are quite a few vegetarians, so the spread has to include plenty of options for the non meat-eaters. We make tons and tons of food, and sometimes two of the same dish, one with meat and one without. Some of the family favorites are a green bean casserole with water chestnuts and crispy fried onions, and grandma’s weird dessert of green jello full of nuts and cottage cheese.
Rule #3 of California Thanksgiving- Keep the wine flowing
Some of the best wine in the world comes from California, so we give thanks for living in such a beautiful climate that produces all kinds of grapes for all the different varietals. Usually earlier on the year, our family goes wine tasting at different vineyards in Napa and Sonoma. We buy all our favorites, and save them to enjoy when we all see each other again in the fall. We appreciate the bottles so much more after waiting to drink them together!
Rule #4 of California Thanksgiving- Walk it off!
Instead of sinking into the couch and turning on a football game, we pile into the back of a big pickup truck and drive down the mountain to the beach for a long walk along the Pacific Ocean. We chase each other with seaweed and try to spot more dolphins than the other cousins. We bring a few surfboards and wetsuits just in case anyone is moved to play in the waves, and we take lots of pictures as the sun goes down and leaves amazing colors in the sky. It’s easy to give thanks when we are surrounded by beauty and full of delicious food!
Rule #5 of California Thanksgiving- Make a weekend out of it
The party isn’t over yet. We stay up late around the fire pit telling old family stories and laughing. Eventually everyone will slowly make their way to bed, whether it’s a tent set up in the backyard or a parked RV under a tree. Tomorrow we’ll wake up and do it all over again, enjoying the leftovers and the company. It’s rare to get the whole family in the same place at the same time, and we take advantage of every minute of it.