Thanksgiving depends on food.
The American tradition revolves around vittles, and Thanksgiving is one of the most boisterous outlets for our gluttonous tendencies. The spread does not have to be the traditional turkey-gravy-cranberry-potato lineup, and it does not have to be especially gourmet. The act itself is the essence of a good Thanksgiving. A table full of food is a bonding point for humanity. For millions of years, big spreads of meats and sweets and savory represent bounty and function as a crucible for community and interpersonal connection.
Of course, after food, Thanksgiving elicits thoughts of loud family bickering and pointless squabbles. Maybe cousin Scott’s wife is a little “well, you know” according to grandmother. Yes, grandpa, it HAS been a while since I’ve had a haircut. It’s also probably best not to have cross-generational fashion discussions.
We must remember that the holiday is not an inherently divisive or loving affair. Family chemistry will play it’s part, but a good dose of mashed potatoes can help set the tone. In the end, it comes down to the food experience.
Do you face a tense battle ground of family dysfunction every fourth Thursday of November? Arguing outright with family is easier over food. It’s our human release, venting emotions and gorging on rich unhealthy dishes. How much can you hate Aunt Doris’ loud little dog she brought along if she also brought that delicious, four-sticks-of-butter artichoke dip? Uncle Charlie’s political views border on fascist but man, he really loaded the eggnog with bourbon this year, thank God. For the warring generations, the Thanksgiving spread is a cathartic nourishment.
I understand that many families can have a more insidious sort of conflict. Serious personal issues pop up in reality and clash with our vision of the manic yet friendly disagreements of TV families. For these engagements I say: passive aggression has no place at the table. Anyone who angrily slides the dish of cranberry sauce over after it is politely asked for is an overcooked turkey. If such an individual is present at your Thanksgiving table, play nice and continue to stack heaping piles of turkey on their plate and keep the eggnog coming. Soon the tryptophan and booze will kick in and force the poor sport to tap out, leaving you with a peaceful family gathering. Again, food is the savior.
On Thanksgiving, the dining room table becomes a G20 summit for families. Nothing will get done or progress if you don’t let go, grab a big turkey leg and tell everyone what’s what. They’ll return the favor and at the end, you can laugh at the whole thing. Let your grievances fill the air like the smell of fresh stuffing. As Phyllis Diller said, “Never go to bed mad. Stay up and fight.” And on Thanksgiving, you’ll never go to bed mad if you go to bed full.