A Holiday Unlike Any Other

01 Oct 2021

A pandemic can’t damper our need for Thanksgiving

By Ray Linville

What images come to mind when someone mentions Thanksgiving to you? For me it’s a communal moment to get together with family and close friends over a meal (or two) when traditional food favorites take center stage.

Of all American holidays, this one has it right: home cooking. You just can’t bring takeout to the Thanksgiving table like what often happens on Memorial Day or Labor Day. How many family members do you know who strut their culinary skills and bring their best offerings to a holiday gathering? Have you ever seen a roasted bird, regardless of how many hours that it was cooked, that everyone has been anticipating for days take second place to a special dish that hasn’t been enjoyed in a long time?

The plenty on most of our tables reminds us of how lucky most of us are — even in a pandemic with social distancing.

I can’t imagine spending Thanksgiving without family, and I’ve done that only once — when I was in South Korea with the U.S. Air Force years ago. It was the worst holiday that I ever spent as it is today for thousands of American troops stationed around the world, away from hometowns, best friends, and, most important of all, immediate family members. Well-prepared food is available, but it’s not the same if it’s not shared with loved ones.

When you gather with more than one generation in a home during Thanksgiving, the conversations ramble around the usual topics of sports, hobbies, music, work, school, health, and — no surprise — food. It’s the one component of life that connects family more than any other.

Not surprisingly, politics is usually kept off the table for this occasion. Who would dare ruin a Thanksgiving gathering with a divisive comment that separates rather than joins? And what better ingredient to have than food to create connections with even distant relatives or newfound friends?

What’s the farthest you have traveled to be with family members over Thanksgiving? And when you’ve been traveling, what do you look forward to the most?

Have you sat during a Thanksgiving meal and watched as almost everyone simply lingers as they enjoy food and the shared company? It’s probably the slowest-eaten meal of the year (except for young kids, of course, who march to the tune of a different drummer). Even with a serving of a favorite dish still on a plate, time is taken to enjoy the moment before the last bite is slowly eaten.

The shared food is the stimulus for making sure that the conversation flows and everyone — from young to old — around the table is brought into the conversation.

Days before Thanksgiving, just ask family members or your good friends gathered as family what they most want: turkey, classic dressing or what about one made with oysters, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes (don’t forget sweet potatoes), the real-deal wild rice, perhaps a vegetable casserole (yellow squash or green bean), or your new way of preparing Brussels sprouts. Maybe Thanksgiving is the one day when a child willingly eats a vegetable.

I first have to mention dessert (and at least two). Think apple pie. Oh, yes, sweet potato pie is an obvious necessity for a Southerner (and doesn’t duplicate the sweet potatoes served as a side dish). If I can have a third, it’d be persimmon pudding. (Where is pumpkin pie? I ate it all the day before.)

What’s my favorite Thanksgiving meal? Actually it’s not what is served; it’s who I’m with for those extended moments around the table before everyone returns to what they call their lives. In fact, our lives have been intertwined through conversation in the time that is shared together as Thanksgiving. That’s what is important. But pass me some more sweet potatoes.

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