Announcements cry out from the youngest member of the family, “Uncle John is here, and, oh, wait, Grandpa and Grandma too! We’re halfway there. Twelve more to go!” The holiday, which aims to provide abundant gratitude and grace, also leads to grumbles over the gobbler, among other boisterous confessions. From the traditionalists to the trendsetters, everyone has an expectation of beloved tastes and foods, only experienced one day a year. With multiple guests seeking the ultimate experience, comprising mouth-watering turkey with or without gravy, sides of stuffing, cranberry sauce, candied yam soufflé, and rolls, it’s no wonder the table consumes each inch of the festive tablecloth.
As a large and delicious bird, hunted during the autumn season in the early 1600s, the turkey became the ideal protein. Starting in 1863, President Lincoln identified Thanksgiving as a national holiday. According to a 2019 survey, 88% of Americans serve the great gobbler. Michelle Wall writes, “Growing up, mama didn’t cook a turkey because everyone seemed to prefer ham. As in-laws arrived to augment the family, we started having ham and turkey. It’s become a tradition to serve both.”
Ah, to stuff or not to stuff? “My mom is distressed that I stuff the turkey,” writes Tamatha Atkins. “She believes I am going to give us all salmonella and won’t eat the stuffing; so, I make separate stuffing just for her!” For other families, there is debate over grammatical terms. Is it called “stuffing,” “dressing,” or simply “filling”?
The American tradition arrives at dinner tables across the nation. Chances are there will be a plate holding the jellied mass with ridges from the can still intact. Many of us remember the childhood task of slightly jostling the container, giggling to the sounds that emanated, leading to the plop! Ocean Spray manufactures 70 million cans specifically for the holiday season. Despite the controversy of “having” verses “excluding,” popularity reigns over the canned whole-berry sauce.
During the heightened stress of food prep across two and sometimes three days, making sure everyone’s favorite dishes are included, emotions lead to at least one confession. Martha Stevens writes, “Ah, it was a wonderful moment. In front of 15 people, my Aunt threw down her napkin, stood up, and said, ‘I know some of you don’t appreciate my creamed pearled onions, but it has been at our Thanksgiving table as far back as I can remember. And, we’re not about to stop! I had to suffer; so, we can all suffer together.’”
After second helpings of turkey, candied yams, and one more yeast roll, deep breaths, and a 15-minute break, this course leads to a personal battle whether to pass or accept a plate of sweet potato, pumpkin, or pecan pie. “Every Thanksgiving I surrender to the foods that remind me of people I love and lost, and others that I only have at Thanksgiving,” shares Ginger Michaels. “I eat a thin slice of each dessert, because who can choose? There’s always an option for ice cream and Cool Whip. I cannot muster decisions by the end of the meal; so, it’s always a ‘Yes!’”
Thanksgiving is a ritual based on the holiday family dinner. It comprises all the essential ingredients, such as the time of arrival, the greetings and conversations with family and friends, and the television programs, all planned around the evening meal. The ceremony of festive clothes on particular guests and the late arrival of others is part of the holiday’s emotional experience. Year after year, we count blessings and light candles to memorialize those missing from the day. Through symbols, predictability, and the arrival of new additions, each family celebrates Thanksgiving Day’s intergenerational gathering!