What Is This "Thanksgiving" Thing?
Updated: Sep 26, 2020
I remember when I was in first grade, in celebration of Thanksgiving, my class would make little turkey tails and pilgrim hats and feather headdresses out of different colored pieces of construction paper. My classmates and I, still honing our scissor skills, would carefully cut out all of the pre-drawn patterns, glue all of the pieces together, and wait for everything to dry on the back counter in the classroom. At the end of the day we would proudly wear our art home to show our parents. Our teachers were making an attempt to teach us about the tradition of Thanksgiving. The theme was happy pilgrims and Native Americans all sitting down peacefully to a bountiful spread of the summer's harvest. That was what we were taught at that tender age, only to be disillusioned later in life by the true historical events. Within a few hours our amazing "Works of art" became torn and forgotten, replaced by the anticipation of the meal that was going to be enjoyed very soon. I remember that Thanksgiving wasn't really about giving thanks at all. It was about trying to steer clear of the cranky parents getting up crazy early to "Get the bird in the oven." The hustle in the kitchen was not something we kids got to assist with except the honorary position of the "Potato peeler." My sister, brother and I were repeatedly ushered out of the work area so as to not be under foot. The meal prep continued all day, until we all sat down and stuffed ourselves with turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, rolls, gravy, green bean casserole, candied yams, and the obligatory green salad that was usually untouched. And then there was this salad made of lime jello with vegetables inside. Who's crazy idea was that? As a child, and still as an adult, I find this so very wrong on all accounts! Eeeeew! We then waited for a bit before we stuffed ourselves further with pumpkin pie topped with whipped cream. (Lots and lots of whipped cream for me!) Then later, another plate of food perhaps. This feasting went on for the rest of Thanksgiving Day.
I remember being very bored on Thanksgiving Day. There wasn't much for a young child to do. We were allowed to play in the backyard, but couldn't get dirty before the meal. Football (Which I have never had even a tiny interest in) was being played on the only television in the house, all day long, for my Grandpa. Our neighborhood friends couldn't play outside, because of the holiday, until after the meal, and only until dark. So our window of play was very small, perhaps an hour or two. And then the day of gratitude was over.
As I matured and eventually moved into my first apartment with my "Yet to be" husband, I had a passion to have perfect Thanksgiving meals. I worked very hard to have the most delicious spread on the beautiful mahogany table with the perfect damask tablecloth. I had the little tags that indicated where each guest was to sit. Each place setting had the appropriate silverware, matching dishes and cleverly folded napkins. It was so lovely and I was very proud! The years that I didn't cook were spent at relatives houses, where they did all of the toiling for the Thanksgiving meal. Every year, either my house or someone else's, we had pretty much same meal. A turkey or ham (Or both) centered around an array of side dishes with pies and baked goods to follow. A day of decadence and overindulgence, all in the name of "Tradition."
In 2012, I broke tradition and transitioned to a vegan diet. I had a renewed excitement, and was on a new mission to make the best "Vegan" Thanksgiving meal. I did my research and an impressive amount of experimental recipes (Thank you to my taste testing friends. You know who you are.) before I put out an amazing spread of plant based decadence. Mushroom and pecan wellington, garlic mashed potatoes, mushroom gravy, green beans with caramelized garlic, onions and cashews, and pumpkin or sweet potato pie. I found the appropriate nut milks and vegan butters and soy whipped creams to rival the richness of the animal based products. The meal was so delicious I have duplicated it for the last 7 years.
This year, 2019, I started analyzing what today's "Thanksgiving" looks like to me. It still involves the same ultra rich meal, be it traditional or plant based. It still involves the same overindulgence. Football is still the big thing on TV for most. There is a new, growing tradition to eat the meal and then get out to all of the Black Friday sales, before everybody else, so you can save a few bucks on Christmas gifts. I'm having a hard time seeing the "Reason for the season." What is this "Thanksgiving" thing at this point? What am I "Thankful" for? Giving it a lot of thought and narrowing it all the way down; Fundamentally, I am thankful for my health and the health of my family and friends. The meal doesn't really matter. So if it doesn't matter what is eaten, why not make it a different meal? And why not make it a meal that supports our health instead of the thousand calorie gut bomb that leaves us feeling like a sleepy blob on the couch? Here's another thought. Why does Thanksgiving even need to be centered around a meal at all? If we can modify this tradition with football and all of the Black Friday nonsense, what's to say that we can't make a new tradition altogether?
So, this year I am on a new quest! I am excited to make this the Healthiest Whole Food Plant Based Thanksgiving meal ever! A simple meal of healthy ingredients that doesn't take all day or force me to rise with the roosters. A new tradition of health and gratitude! And instead of rushing out to sales or zoning out in front of the television, I think I will take my time on a hike with my loved ones in the wilderness. I will take in the beauty that is all around me on this blessed day of gratitude. I will enjoy this Thanksgiving Day for what it is supposed to be; Giving thanks for all I have by nurturing myself and the ones I love.