Thanksgiving is a farce. A wondrous, many-splendored, mysterious, and lovely farce, but a farce nonetheless. And since it’s the season for gratefulness, I’ll tell you one major thing I’m grateful for: the food at every single other holiday besides Thanksgiving. Sometimes the truth hurts. And the truth is that every other major American holiday celebration has better food than Thanksgiving Day.
Let me add a quick preface here: Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday. It’s much less stressful than Christmas, it’s mostly about football, and it typically falls on a far more temperate day than any of the other winter holidays. I love Thanksgiving. It might be my favorite holiday. But that has nothing to do with the food.
Let’s review the typical Thanksgiving spread, dish by dish. Here are the main items on the menu: turkey, cranberries, stuffing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and maybe some random green bean monstrosity. Shall we jump in?
First off is turkey. Turkey’s problem isn’t so much that it tastes bad as that literally any other meat tastes better. Ham is better. Duck is better. Chicken, cooked properly, is just as good and takes much less effort, so it is better. Any sort of cow meat is better. Hot dogs, which are in their own meat category, are arguably inferior to Thanksgiving turkey, but they take one-thousandth of the time, cost way less, and are great vehicles for brown mustard. Thus, hot dogs (and of course sausages) are better, too. The president should do America a favor and pardon all the turkeys.
Next up are cranberries. Canned cranberry sauce makes me incredibly thankful—thankful we aren’t living in the Great Depression! The fact that we eat sliced Jell-O on the only holiday dedicated solely to food is one of our society’s enduring mysteries.
The next main Thanksgiving food is stuffing. I can’t really talk about stuffing because I’ve never eaten it. The reason I’ve never eaten it is because it looks like vomit, and I don’t eat things that look predigested. You shouldn’t either. (N.b.: I also don’t eat green bean casserole, obviously.)
Then there are mashed potatoes. Mashed potatoes are the single best kind of simple carb. They make me look forward to one day being a toothless resident of an assisted-living facility. I basically spend Thanksgiving dinner rubbing mashed potatoes all over my face. But they aren’t really a Thanksgiving Day food! Sensible Americans eat mashed potatoes for a host of holidays, including Christmas and other holidays I can’t think of right now. Or on any day of the year. Mashed potatoes taste great on any Wednesday.
And then there is dessert: the inevitable pumpkin pie. My family eats pumpkin pie every year made from pumpkins we grow in our backyard because we are bucolic and adorable. I assume all other pumpkin pies taste like cat food. Plus, American consumerism has completely destroyed pumpkin food items by putting artificial pumpkin flavoring into basically everything edible, as well as a number of products you should not eat (Febreze Limited Edition Pumpkin Harvest & Fall Odor Eliminator, Spiced Pumpkin Car Vent Stick Air Freshener, Pumpkin Spice Oreos, etc.). By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, endemic pumpkin fatigue makes pumpkin pie eating more of a duty than a delight.
Let’s be frank: Thanksgiving food is unimpressive, and that’s no longer debatable. But here’s my other essential point: Every single other holiday has food that’s better.
Christmas dinner, for instance, has a lot of overlap with Thanksgiving, except that people are more likely to eat ham and less likely to eat stuffing. The Fourth of July has the aforementioned hot dogs, as well as watermelon (perhaps the single most perfect food item), hamburgers (I would put these in the same category as turkey, but I recognize that good people can disagree), and popsicles. Plus, you can make a delicious, patriotic, and emotionally resonant July Fourth meal in about 20 minutes.
I can’t really speak to Hanukkah’s culinary offerings except that latkes are amazing and make me want to weep with happiness. How could a holiday meal centered around a big dead bird possibly be superior to one starring the mature, sensible, fragrant older brothers of McDonald’s hash browns?
Even holidays that don’t have particularly distinctive culinary traditions manage to outpace Thanksgiving. On Valentine’s Day of 2013, for example, I watched House of Cards by myself over a dinner of Russell Stover chocolate. The meal was as tasty and pleasant as it was memorable. Why spend 48 hours stressing about Thanksgiving food when you can spend 20 minutes running to the grocery store and getting a box of candy?
Thanksgiving is a delightful holiday despite its food, not because of it.