By Sara Mead
One of the biggest things I’ve learned in my long, slow process of growing up is that things I’ve always taken for granted, because my family always did it that way–from going to church, to eating family dinners, to how we do laundry, to how we make the bed, to how we show affection, to how we argue–can’t actually be taken for granted, because every family has its own, slightly quirky way of doing things.
This is nowhere more apparent than at big, food-focused holiday celebrations. Particularly Thanksgiving. I always though the core elements of Thanksgiving dinner were pretty much the same for everyone: Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberries. Whether the cranberries were sauce, relish, or both, was of course open to variation, as well as whether or not to include green bean casserole. but beyond that, I thought Thanksgiving was pretty much set. Of course, growing up, I was aware some kids I knew had ham, rather than turkey, and later on I learned some people’s holiday feasts included corn. But it wasn’t until I was grown up that I realized there were even greater variations. For example: My brother-in-law’s family always includes noodles in their Thanksgiving feast but not sweet potatoes–who knew?
And I also realized some parts of Thanksgiving I’d always taken for granted weren’t really in the cannon. When I was growing up, our Thanksgiving day feast always included pieces of celery–some stuffed with cream cheese and some stuffed with peanut butter–as hors d’ouerves while the meal preparations were being finalized. I just thought everyone did that, but I’ve since learned it was a charming invention of my mother’s. The meal itself also included a relish tray of pickles and olives. The first time a friend and I prepared Thanksgiving on our own, away from our families, a few years ago, I realized to my chagrin as we were sitting down to eat that I hadn’t brought olives. And they weren’t part of her Thanksgiving observation. It was actually one of the best Thanksgiving dinners I’ve ever had (fried turkey–mmmm!). But darn if I didn’t REALLY miss those olives. Olives, turkey, and my mom’s cranberry relish are the three tastes, all sort of mixed together, that I most associate with Thanksgiving. So now, every year at Thanksgiving, I make sure there are olives, wherever I’m celebrating. This year, I got some fancy ones, rather than the jarred and canned olives of my youth, but they’re still going to be there to provide the delicious, briny, olive-y taste that complements the turkey so nicely.
What about you? What are your family’s odd Thanksgiving quirks? What food do you eat on Thanksgiving that others don’t? What tradition that others hold sacrosanct do you happily ignore come Turkey day?