A More Gratifying Thanksgiving
By Christa Melnyk Hines
When we think of Thanksgiving, our thoughts naturally drift to traditional roast turkey, pumpkin pie, and family gatherings.
But if the holiday feels more like a tired list of ho-hum obligations rather than an energizing way to revel in your blessings, maybe it’s time to revolutionize your Thanksgiving this year.
Eat this, not that.
“Thanksgiving is absolutely one of our favorite holidays, especially in terms of food,” says Caroline King, a mom of six children, ranging in age between four and 16.
But, no one in the family really liked turkey all that much.
“We spent years making the traditional feast, but always had a second or third ‘main side’ for the kids and that was just silly,” she says.
King says her husband Rich does most of the cooking and decided one year to punt the turkey and try a roast pork tenderloin with chipotle wine sauce instead.
“Everyone loved it—the adults and the kids. Now, it’s our go-to for Thanksgiving,” she says.
Choose your own adventure.
Jocelyn Chilvers says she and her husband Jim enjoy being spontaneous and creative with the holiday.
“It also helps that we like all kinds of food and find no appeal in eating the same dishes year after year,” Chilvers says.
With families more far-flung than ever, not everyone is able to get together with extended family for the holiday. That’s one reason the Chilvers’ family chooses to surround themselves with good friends instead.
For over ten years, they’ve invited friends and neighbors over for a “Turkey Fry Open House” in their backyard from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving day.
“We set up a turkey fryer on our lawn or driveway, away from any structures, and use a piece of drywall—pro tip!— as a base to catch any spills,” Chilvers says.
The couple sends out invitations about two to three weeks in advance and friends can select a time when they’d like to fry their turkey—or, in some cases, their chicken, game hen or duck.
Many guests just show up to socialize and enjoy beverages and light appetizers—often bringing their own foods to share.
“This varies from cinnamon rolls and fresh fruit in the morning to stuffed jalapeños and bruschetta in the afternoon,” Chilvers says. “It’s a very fluid event with folks coming and going throughout the day.”
No bluffing, baby.
Some friendly competition in the form of board games and card games can bring generations of family members together.
Anita Smith, a mom of two, says that she and her family like to play Texas Hold ‘Em each year after the big meal.
Among the roughly 30 guests who attend the family’s annual Thanksgiving, around 10 like to circle around the card table to play a few hours of low stakes poker. “The big pot might be $3, but we act like it’s $500,” laughs Smith.
The conversation and camaraderie makes the game extra special.
“It’s fun because it crosses all generations,” she says. “We have the 80-year-olds, those of us in our 40s, and the kids playing.”
Smith’s sons Evan, 15 and Colin, 12, are the youngest players at the table. She says that the game offers a natural segue into conversations between the older family members and her children.
“My kids get to know them, their personalities and stories from way back when.”
Fire up holiday spirit.
Stacey Moorehead, a mom of six girls, says she and a group of families started the tradition of “Friendsgiving” five years ago on the day before Thanksgiving. The event is a fun way for the families to kick off the entire holiday season.
The group gathers together with fall soups and foods, and the kids take part in a candy cane hunt.
“Our many, many children all have a great time playing and running in our friends’ large backyard until the real show begins,” Moorehead says.
The much anticipated “real show” is a fireworks event at a local lake.
“We all load up, bundle up, pack hot chocolate and candy canes, and spend the evening watching fireworks,” Moorehead says.
After that, the caravan drives through a holiday lights display set to festive music at a nearby campground.
“What better way to start the holiday than with friends who truly are family!” she says.
You rebel, you.
Families change and grow. Often what once worked well, no longer makes sense for any number of reasons. Maybe you’re sick of making candied yams every year that no one eats. Or you daydream of skipping the cooking and cleaning for a relaxing family vacation on the beach instead.
“It seems that a lot of people live under unrealistic expectations, especially when it comes to holidays,” King says. “The focus needs to be on family celebrating what they are thankful for, not to be stressed out that the green beans aren’t up to snuff. Make food that makes you happy, make your own traditions. At the end of the day, you will remember the laughs and time spent together.”
So go ahead and resist! Rather than running yourself into the ground chasing society’s prescribed picture-perfect holiday, create a meaningful Thanksgiving tailored just for your special crowd. You will be grateful you did.
Fun Facts About the First Thanksgiving
- The Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe celebrated the first Thanksgiving for three days in 1621.
- Potatoes and sweet potatoes weren’t on the menu.
- Pumpkin pie, made with pureed pumpkin, hadn’t been invented.
- Although the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag ate cranberries, cranberry sauce wasn’t introduced until 50 years later.
- Historians say the group dined on waterfowl and venison, not turkey.
Source: Plimouth Plantation, plimoth.org