The festivities are stretched into a four-day event for the more than 40 members of the immediate family, in-laws, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who attend.
Members of the O’Malley family can count on one thing every year: a Thanksgiving extravaganza in Gainesville.
Except an O’Malley Thanksgiving doesn’t just last through the evening on the final Thursday of November. The festivities are stretched into a four-day event for the more than 40 members of the immediate family, in-laws, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who attend.
Lois Anne O’Malley, grandma and hostess for the day, holds Thanksgiving annually at the same home she’s lived in the past 50 years. And her family can rely on a production each time.
"It’s one of a kind," she said.
Lois and late husband, John, had seven of their own children, who then went on to bring 18 grandchildren. And now, the great-grandchildren have started to arrive, the latest born in October. While new faces seem to come to the Thanksgiving dinner table each year, the days are rich with tradition.
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As this year’s gold-embroidered "Golden Jubilee Thanksgiving" invitation spells out, the "O’Malley Homestead" in northwest Gainesville, on 98th Street, opened at 2 p.m. on Wednesday for family members to arrive from their homes near and far. The next three days are scheduled by the hour for activities.
Among the traditions: a craft of some sort, a cookie exchange, a family photo and a game for the adults in the group that includes a cash prize. This year, it’s blackjack.
Davis Cowan — or "Uncle Davis," as the O’Malley clan calls him — said in the 30-plus years he’s been coming to Thanksgiving when he first entered the family, there’s been a wide range of games.
Among the most infamous are paintball, archery, catapulting and slingshotting eggs over the property’s towering trees.
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On Friday, another beloved activity takes place: tractor rides. An age-appropriate O’Malley will drive a compact riding lawn mower around a loop, pulling a handful of the grandkids in a wagon on the back. The crew then enjoys Lois Anne’s milkshakes, which she prepares with an old milkshake machine.
While many buzzed and mingled outside on Thursday, a few busied themselves in the kitchen to prepare the feast and cook the three turkeys, three hams and three gallons of gravy courtesy of daughter-in-law Siobhan from Orlando. Siobhan’s mother, also not a direct O’Malley descendant, has been taken in by the family for the day for years.
"It is such a camaraderie," she said.
But just before the group settles down to eat, the annual family photo is in order. Each one is taken outside, and a few of the earliest photos hang as canvas prints on Lois’ walls in the home, with fewer faces the older the photo date.
Martin, the oldest of Lois Anne and John’s children, said he remembers when the property used to be just a field of grass, and has nothing but fond memories of the Thanksgiving holiday at his childhood home.
"We have a grand old time," he said.
This story originally published to gainesville.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the Gannett Media network via the Florida Wire. The Florida Wire, which runs across digital, print and video platforms, curates and distributes Florida-focused stories. For more Florida stories, visit here, and to support local media throughout the state of Florida, consider subscribing to your local paper.