Thanksgiving Rules …
Because There are No Rules.
Most people love Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving.
President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving an official holiday in 1863, expressing gratitude for a pivotal Union Army victory at Gettysburg on November 26.
The country was torn apart, nearing the end of an awful, bloody civil war, and President Lincoln knew that the American people needed something to feel grateful for, something to unite behind. He gave a speech, which was actually written by Secretary of State, William Seward, declaring that the fourth Thursday of every November thereafter would be considered an official U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving.
Although, under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, it went through one change in 1939, his administration changed it back in 1941, and now it remains — the fourth Thursday in November.
Of course, that’s the official government and legal holiday version, not with the Pilgrims and Indians. But some hold that that Autumn feast was in fact the first feast of thanksgiving, even though details are sketchy. Accounts of this feast (or if there was a feast) differ, besides becoming romanticized over the hundreds of years. The food we eat now at Thanksgiving is as different from what the Pilgrims ate as venison and fish are from turkeys and stuffing.
Today, most Thanksgivings are about family, turkey, football and Macy’s day parade. Those are the tangible things — things to give thanks for, things you can taste and hug, watch and play.
But there is something else. There is something intangible, a feeling I get in the gut — you may get it around your heart, or under your shoulder blades, or in your throat, like a tingle or a warm fuzzy. It’s almost a proprietary feeling of owning this holiday. Well, maybe not owning it, but making it your own, doing something with it that separates it from other people’s Thanksgivings. You know what it is, it is your own tradition, your own touch, your own something that makes this holiday more special than any other.
It is not a religious holiday, but it is a holiday of spirit. It is not a holiday that obligates you to gift giving. It is a holiday of pausing for a minute and giving thanks and then eating.
For our son, the holiday truly begins with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. For some reason, he is delighted with songs and dances, with the huge floating balloons, the spectacle that ends with Santa Claus riding in on his sleigh. When he was little, he used to watch my face anxiously and ask, “Do you believe in Santa, mama?” “Absolutely, Sammy,” I’d answer, completely earnestly. And my son would relax. Because I believe that “Santa Claus” is really the spirit of giving generously to others, I believe in Santa Claus, and still do to this day.
My husband is in charge if cooking turkey. Both turkeys, one for Thanksgiving, and the second one the following day, for Friendsgiving. The giant birds always come out golden brown, and juicy. His secret? Leave it the hell alone. It drives me crazy.
“C’mon, Tucker, let’s just put a little bit of butter on it, let’s just baste it a touch,” I implore him, as he guards the oven as if he is the center for the Celtics and I am the strong forward for the Denver Nuggets.
“Leave it alone, woman. Leave. It. Alone!” he grunts, holding me at bay. I’m short, exactly a foot shorter than he is, and he has no trouble with this particular defense.
In our family we follow the first day of Thanksgiving at my parents’ house, where we bring a turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, green bean casserole, biscuits, salad, and the other members of the family also brings more side dishes, with the second day of Friendsgiving, where we provide a turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, green bean casserole, good sandwich bread, Pasta House salad, and friends can bring whatever dishes they want. This year we are having, for the first time ever, Friendsgiving at our friends’ house, Sam and Dorothy. For one thing, no one has to contend with our dogs. For another thing, no one has to contend with our dogs. Have I mentioned that our dogs are friendly to, pretty much, only us? Yeah, there’s that.
For me, the tradition is THE SANDWICH. That perfect combination of dark meat, a little bit of skin, a little bit of stuffing and a touch of potatoes, just a schmear of mayo, a hint of mustard, two pieces of tomatoes sprinkled with kosher salt, on thick slices of sourdough bread, and in the end the whole sandwich is sliced on the diagonal. (Why on the diagonal? I have no idea. I only know that it tastes better that way.) Put a few potato chips on that plate, supply a cold soda, and I am a happy, happy American. I am surrounded by friends, good conversation, and good food. I close my eyes, try to eat as slowly as possible, and count my blessings.