In late September, my mother sent out an email with the subject line: Family Thanksgiving Poll. “In recent years there has been some lobbying to do away with the Thanksgiving turkey and to have goose instead,” my mom wrote to the extended Thanksgiving crew. So she put it to a vote. Turkey lost by a landslide. I was horrified (my mom and I were the only ones who voted to stick with tradition), but it just goes to show how easy it is to ankle longstanding Thanksgiving rituals on a whim.
In the spirit of embracing my Turkey-free Thanksgiving, I asked my fellow XX Factor contributors what Thanksgiving conventions they’d throw out the window. From cranberry sauce to Maw Maw’s stuffing, here are the things they’d be happy to bag. Add yours in the comments!
As a child, I loved the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. The Rockettes! The balloons! And, best of all, Santa Claus at the end! Now that I have kids, it’s a good way to keep them quiet while I start on the mashed potatoes and do some last-minute dusting. But there’s a problem. I’m not sure when it started, or if this has always been the case and I’ve just blocked it out as some kind of defense mechanism (though Wikipedia doesn’t go back farther than 2003), but the “live” performances by B-list celebrities have got to go. They’re either lip-synched, or are so bad that you wish they had been. This refuge for soon-to-be-forgotten American Idol winners (Clay Aiken, Fantasia Barrino) and never-good has-beens (Michael Bolton and Darius Rucker) has nothing to do with tradition and gets in the way of the actual Thanksgiving traditions: the marching bands full of kids thrilled to be in New York, the always-cool sight of Spider-Man and Kermit the Frog floating over Manhattan, that float with the turkey wearing a pilgrim hat. Here’s my proposal: Scrap the mediocre talent singing from a float. That could get Santa and his reindeer down right down Santa Claus lane an hour earlier. And he might as well catch up, since everyone else started celebrating Christmas the minute Halloween ended.
It’s time to end the notion that Thanksgiving is primarily a family holiday. If you live close to your family and can visit them without exerting much sweat, good for you, but for the rest of us, it’s just impractical. You have to suffer through airports at the busiest time of year, and be back to work by Monday, no matter how exhausting it is to navigate your family’s emotional baggage. And then, in less than a month for many of us, you’re expected to do it all over again for Christmas. If Thanksgiving were in June, it would probably be half as stressful.
We can be thankful for our families during the other winter holidays, especially since we can directly thank them when they give us presents. Some folks that live far from their families have begun to use the holiday instead to get together with friends. Instead of seeing that choice as a fallback, I say we should embrace it, celebrating our friends in a manner that truly reflects how much they give to us.
I would happily dispose of the televised football game on Thanksgiving. Granted, I’d happily dispose of the televised football game most days of the year, but on Thanksgiving it seems particularly egregious and pointless. Many people who pay little heed to the rest of the football season feel an inexplicable urge to exhibit their manliness and/or patriotism by turning on the television and occasionally bellowing about particularly violent tackles. I dislike pretty much everything about the ritual: the inane chatter of the commentators, the invasive timeout commercials for Black Friday sales, and the inescapable feeling (for me, anyway) that it’s not fair to take young men away from their families on a national holiday for entertainment’s sake. Plus, it distracts from what should be the main focus on Thanksgiving, which is food, of course.
–L. V. Anderson
I’m just going to say it: my stuffing is better than Maw Maw’s. I’m the foodie type who picked up the Thanksgiving issue of Bon Appétit for ideas; who’s planning to make rich turkey stock and fresh French bread ahead of time; and who will be frantically dashing from gourmet grocer to fine foods purveyor on Wednesday night in search of fresh whole chestnuts to roast myself. Maw Maw will pour her stuffing out of a bag; add onions, canned chicken stock, a lot of love and even more butter; and call it a day.
Maybe it makes me a bad person, but I would like to repeal the tradition of determining who’s going to cook by way of age, seniority or custom. I realize that many people are more than happy to let mom or grandma take care of things in the kitchen, but, for those of us who are obnoxiously Type-A and have a deep affection for our immersion blenders, giving up control to less talented or creative cooks, no matter how much we love them, can be maddening. Sure, auntie’s pumpkin pie (with the filling from the can and the store-bought crust) is a sweet thought, but my version of Ina Garten’s pumpkin roulade with ginger buttercream filling just kicks ass. Do everyone a favor, family, and allow us upstarts who regularly consult our flavor thesauruses to do the cooking–that way, Maw Maw is free to tipsily tell (from the rum cake, of course!) old family stories, while we all enjoy a better meal.
–J. Bryan Lowder
See, Bryan, at a couple decades past you in life, I disagree, at least partly. The last thing I really want is to eat gussied-up (a phrase Maw Maw would surely love) versions of stuff I wouldn’t normally eat in the first place, and the thing I would abandon is fancy cranberry sauce. Seriously, people, cranberries are barely edible. No one wants them on any other day of the year. I have a fantastic recipe for candying them, but cranberry sauce? It’s just one more thing to make, and then one more thing to push around on your plate out of politeness. I like the sweet-salty thing as well as the next girl, but when it comes to cranberry sauce, I only need a teeny tiny bit, and I’m just as happy (maybe happier) with the stuff that comes in the can. Cranberry sauce is the thing no one will miss on the table, and the final leftover to get tossed.
And, Bryan? I have made fancy French bread stuffing. I really have. I love to cook. But I actually like the bagged stuff. Pepperidge Farm Cornbread or bust. That said, I totally want to come try your pie!
I will go to the mattresses to save cranberry sauce, my single favorite item on the Thanksgiving table. (KJ, if you haven’t tried the original New York Times cookbook version with orange zest–which seems to have been cut from subsequent, more gussied-up editions–I don’t think you have standing here.) But it is time to rethink the rest of the traditional menu. Any lineup that is full of things we only eat only once year seems suspect. If we really liked turkey and candied yams so much, would we not pull them out again on some other day?
My larger problem with the Thanksgiving menu is that it is so totally ossified. The Thanksgiving story is all about the melting pot, about mixing English cooking traditions with indigenous North American foods, right? But later waves of immigrants haven’t gotten a chance to put their foods on the collective table. Why should it seem like such sacrilege to think about mixing up the menu a little now and again, and adding something totally unexpected? I’m thinking back to a particular Thanksgiving meal that was far too sparsely attended to even contemplate cooking a turkey. This prompted some radical rethinking, and that radical rethinking led to chicken enchiladas, margaritas, and one of the best, most thanks-filled meals ever.