What’s Unique About Your Thanksgiving?

Courtesy of flickr user Darwin Bell, used under a Creative Commons license.

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?


7 responses to “What’s Unique About Your Thanksgiving?

  1. I don’t know how many other people do this, but my Mom always made a dish called bread sauce: bread, milk, butter and a big onion are boiled together until it has about the consistency of oatmeal. Take the onion out and eat. Even as I describe it, it sounds disgusting, but it’s delicious and one of those things I’ve had at every Thanksgiving (and Christmas) meal for my whole life.

  2. My uncle refuses to eat cranberry sauce that isn’t (1) the plain jelly kind and (2) from a can. Not that weird, but was prepping the sauce and dumped it out of the can and muddled it up and other relatives looked at me in horror. Apparently he flips his lid if the sauce isn’t extracted from the can in one piece, sliced, and put together in its original can shape standing on its end.

    Had to secret away my mistake and start with a fresh can.

    He also makes sauerkraut which I thought was weird before I learned that everyone in Baltimore makes sauerkraut for Thanksgiving. It’s not a Polish thing because they don’t do it in Chicago… the flavor combo is disgusting, but the sauerkraut itself was probably the best thing on the menu in isolation.

  3. My mom used to cook turkey…and she can’t cook it…so I talked her out of it…Now every year we do a hot pot : )

  4. I don’t know that there was anything unique about my Thanksgivings growing up. However, in the last two years, since my GF and I moved to Chicago for school, we have transformed Thanksgiving into Pie Day! (Yes, I know there is an actual Pi Day). Neither of us really loved Thanksgiving food (besides pumpkin pie) so we now make Cherry Pie, Pumpkin Pie, and several homemade Pizza Pies. Pretty great.

  5. Perhaps as a reaction to childhood, where (for me) everything was the same every year right down to having black olives, green olives, and celery in the relish tray, we never have the same menu more than once. Not sure if that’s a tradition or a non-tradition, but Thanksgiving is always a time to try something new.

  6. Can you folks please remember to use bylines? This is a really nice, thoughtful piece, and I’d love to know who wrote it.

  7. Eggnog pie. I’ve never seen or heard of it outside my sister-in-law’s annual thanksgiving dinner.

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