Thanksgiving in the Melting Pot
by Brian D. Jaffe
Even though many people see the Thanksgiving meal as little more than carbo-loading for their shopping marathon on Black Friday, Thanksgiving is the great holiday Doug Matthews applauded in his blog post.
After completing a one-year project examining Thanksgiving for a book about its many colorful traditions, unexpected adventures, humorous occurrences, and more, I can say that the holiday is still near and dear to the hearts of many, and not just because it’s a four-day weekend. The stories compiled in my book, Thanksgiving Tales: True Stories of the Holiday in America, are from 48 writers across the United States who share their individual experiences and memories of Thanksgiving, and provide insights into the varying ways the holiday is celebrated, viewed and cherished.
Thanksgiving is steeped in tradition….the Macy’s Parade, turkey, stuffing, potatoes, pie, and Dad carving the golden bird. Since the American way is to faithfully follow, radically ignore, or adapt tradition to individual circumstances, the images memorialized in folk-art paintings and on the covers of home style magazines do not reflect the full variety and spectrum of Thanksgiving celebrations. Even within this wide variety, I saw many common elements and themes: humor, food, family and friends, small moments and memories, all of which I’ve done my best to capture in Thanksgiving Tales.
Most of us can identify with various kitchen disasters on the big day, such as finding the oven on fire and ending up at a restaurant buffet (p.131), or fear of sickness from improper cooking (p.101), special memories and traditions like sitting with Grandpa (p39), or a family football game (p127). But, what about Grandma slaughtering the holiday bird by the barn, or having so much food that nobody realized the turkey was never served? Does your holiday menu include familiar side dishes, such as cranberry sauce, or the less traditional, such as eggrolls and kimchi?
And what Thanksgiving would be complete without family? My brother and sister-in-law host our Thanksgiving and their attitude is “the more-the-merrier,” which is in stark contrast to those who want to be left alone for the day, and the small minority who are out-and-out Thanksgiving haters. My day with family does not include an alcoholic uncle, a weird cousin, or an aunt who makes unrecognizable foods, as some of the book’s writers describe. But I can relate to the hosting responsibility being passed to the next generation, family squabbles, loss, and the special warmth of four generations of a close family gathered around a table—all heartwarming stories included in my book.
Thanksgiving is inclusive, a holiday for everyone—whether their arrival to the United States was via the Mayflower, Ellis Island, an international airport, or any other way. I’ve always thought that it doesn’t matter if the celebration is traditional or unconventional. It doesn’t matter what food is served, how it’s made, or where the meal is held. What does matter is how I spend the day and who I spend it with.
It is a testament to the importance of this holiday that we will go to great lengths for Thanksgiving—spending money to travel long distances, or taking days to prepare meals, sometimes only to end up sleeping in the car, or learning that the just-eaten turkey was previously dropped on the floor. Yet, we’ll do it all over again next year. In sharing this collection of stories, I hope to emphasize the meaning and value of Thanksgiving for everyone who enjoys the day.