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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Oct. 31, 2014

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Maharaja's buffet is available from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. The cost is $12.
Maharaja's buffet is available from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. The cost is $12.

A twist on the traditional turkey day

Years ago, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving was one of my favorite nights of the year. I enjoyed going out midweek and seeing people in town for the holiday and knowing that, most years, I had an extended weekend ahead of me.

Two years ago, on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, my dad died. Last year on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, my friend and colleague Tim Cuprisin passed away. Needless to say, this is no longer one of my favorite days of the year.

But this is not intended to be a depressing piece of writing, even though it's starting out that way. Instead, I want to convey how I have changed the way I celebrate Thanksgiving based on what's happened over the past two years – and I'm at peace with it.

I still go out on Wednesday night, but instead of hanging in the bars, I prefer to check out the holiday lights in Cathedral Square. The thousands of lights are majestic and festive, but what I really like the most about being in that park at night is swinging on the swing set at some point during my visit.

I'm not a religious person, but there's something about swinging towards the sky that I have enjoyed more in the past couple of years than I have since I was a kid. And my kids love that I've taken up swinging. (OK, insert "swinger" joke here if you must.)

I also plan to spend my third Thanksgiving dinner in a row at Maharaja, 1550 N. Farwell Ave. The first year, I thought I might find the experience kind of depressing – like some of my Jewish friends who go out to Chinese restaurants on Christmas Day have reported to feel. But for me, it wasn't depressing at all.

We went around lunchtime, maybe a little later, and the room was filled with diners, clearly not going turkey traditional, who were upbeat and interactive. We made a lot of eye contact, smiled, photographed each other.

We drank tall Kingfishers, stuffed ourselves on palak paneer and vegetable korma and samosas and naan and mango ice cream. (The buffet is available from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and costs $12, about $2 more than usual but there's usually more meat dishes).

After, we usually go to a movie, preferably at the opulent Oriental Theater. I remember from my years of working at the Prospect Mall Cinema that Thanksgiving is one of the busiest days of the year. I loved working holidays just to escape my own family drama for a few hours.

I've found that old traditions are wonderful, but only if they still work for you. Don't force them. Sometimes, new traditions are necessary, healthy and fun.

I do admit, however, that although I look forward to my newfangled Thanksgiving Day, I still miss the stuffing. Guess that's what Stove Top's for – it ain't grandma's, but it'll do.

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