The XX Factor

Leg of Lamb Instead of Turkey for Thanksgiving: One Family’s Tragic Story

Does not go with sweet potato souffle.  

In late 2013, my parents, sibling, cousins and uncle gathered for a secret family meeting. My husband, daughter and I were not present, so I don’t know the details of how it went down. But I do know the outcome. The family decided unilaterally that there would be no turkey at Thanksgiving this year.

My mother, who was the only pro-turkey dissenter at this clandestine assembly, mentioned to me at some point over the summer that we wouldn’t have turkey in 2014. Thanksgiving seemed far away, so I brushed it off and promptly forgot about it until I was reminded of the turkey ban last week. That’s when my husband and I both acknowledged the true horror of the situation: We’re having lamb, instead of turkey.

“But all the fixins are the same!” my mother exclaimed when I cried foul, before adding in a voice that trailed off with the sadness she had hoped to cover up for my benefit, “whether they go with lamb or not … ”

I’m not going to sit here and argue that turkey is the king of meats. It’s not even the king of poultry. But it is a tradition, even if my jerkfaced contrarian family doesn’t care about it. As lapsed Jews, there aren’t many traditions, or even holidays, we honor on a yearly basis. We skipped Passover this year because celebrating was too hard to schedule. We don’t do Christmas, and we stopped celebrating Hanukkah when I was a teenager (though it may be revived when my daughter is old enough to understand it). We don’t get together for Rosh Hashanah or Sukkot or Purim or any other Jewish days of worship. Thanksgiving is the only constant in our heathen, godless lives.

Since my Austrian grandmother, who died in 2009 at the age of 96, started cooking the Thanksgiving feast, it has had the same yearly components: Turkey, sweet potato soufflé, wild rice stuffing with sausage, green beans, and pumpkin pecan pie. When my mother took over the preparations at some point in the aughts, she didn’t change a thing, and even after my grandmother passed, we kept tradition alive.

So why are we doing away with it this year? Apparently because it’s “not everyone’s favorite.” May I submit: Neither is the sweet potato soufflé! It’s too sweet and I hate it! But if we’re going to reject the only tradition we have for personal preference, why have Thanksgiving at all?

I tried appealing to the parental tribunal with this argument but was denied. My mother says that she is insisting we have turkey at least every other year, which will be cold comfort on Thursday when we are sitting in front of a leg of seasonally inappropriate meat. I guess my only solace is that, in doing so, I will be honoring another Thanksgiving tradition: being irrationally, pointlessly annoyed at your family’s idiosyncrasies.