In the run-up to Thanksgiving every year, my aunt Jeanne assigns each member of my large extended family something to bring. Sometimes it's a specific family recipe, and other times it's as vague as "dessert." Five years ago, I called my mom for my assignment and learned of a new request: My cousin Michelle had asked each of us to submit several family facts that she was going to compile into a quiz.
Michelle edited down our submissions to about 25 questions, making sure there was at least one about each family member in attendance, and printed them on sheets of paper. The questions ran the gamut. Some were straightforward ("At what age did great-grandfather Frank arrive in the United States?"); others, silly ("Which family member has gotten the most speeding tickets?"); and others, tricky ("Which four relatives attended the same university?"). We filled out the quiz just before dinner, the younger kids getting hints from great-aunt Jo, who was, as it turns out, the authority on our family history.
After the meal, we went through the quiz. This was no quick ticking off the answers. With each question came a story, an anecdote, or a debate. I can't remember a Thanksgiving where everyone was so engaged in the conversation. It brought the new in-laws into the fold, as they learned about the family they had joined. And it brought all the generations together -- instead of playing on their own, the kids were laughing at the table along with the aunts, uncles, parents, and grandparents as we rehashed our pasts.
Since then, family trivia has become one of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving. It's a way to celebrate our history and share recent accomplishments ("Which cousins got their driver's licenses this year?") while letting us indulge our competitive sides and occasionally embarrass one another.
To keep the tradition interesting, we change it slightly from year to year. A few years ago, we had to match up family members with their best-known catchphrases. And this year, we have been digging through old albums to find photos to accompany our questions -- which reminds me: I need to hide my preteen pictures before we get too far along.
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