When you think of Thanksgiving, what if the first thing that comes to mind? Not Pilgrims, not giving thanks to God for all his provision. No, let’s be honest here. The first thing that comes to mind is food! And delectable food at that.
When I was a kid, our dining table would be set in advance with water-filled glasses and napkins neatly folded. A folding table was inevitably added to the end of the table to make room for everyone. Relish trays containing grandma’s watermelon pickles, pickled beets, and dill pickles would adorn the table along with carrots, celery, black olives and grandma’s cranberry relish.
The first glimpse of the table set the tone for a feast with its explosion of color. The smells wafting from the kitchen made the most stoic Norwegian restless for the meal to commence. It took great restraint on the part of the men and kids to stay out of the kitchen. On the other hand, we all knew the consequences of stealing a bite before it was served.
After everyone found their places, and we thanked God for all his provision, the hot food was served. First, the huge platter of succulent turkey was presented, followed by fluffy-white mashed potatoes with a little parsley and a dollop of butter on top for garnish. This was followed by a Fostoria serving bowl brimming with moist stuffing and a gravy boat of turkey gravy made from the juices of the bird. (My mouth is watering as I describe the traditional feast.)
The next item passed around the table was generally broccoli or a green vegetable, and baked yams topped with toasted marshmallows. Color and texture were very important elements of the Thanksgiving feast. Warm buns with butter and jelly came next and by this time people would start to complain they had no more room on their plates.
After gorging ourselves with an excess of delicious food, no one ever had room for dessert, so men took naps, kids played and women did the dishes. After the meal was cleaned up, pumpkin pie was served with real whipped cream or ice cream.
Every Thanksgiving, the family Fostoria came out of hiding. The beautiful glass-depression ware belonged to Grandma. Since everyone was family, we all knew the rules of deployment. However, if other guests were present, it was necessary to explain how to arrange your plate. These plates had a 3-inch flat center and then slanted slightly upward toward the outer rim. The turkey (or anything that needed cutting) must be placed in the center of the plate. If you placed your turkey on the edge of the plate, it could catapult to your neighbor when you tried to cut it! While this was not a catastrophic event, it led to a great deal of embarrassment for the guest, rousing laughter by the family, and a mess for Mom to clean up later.
I am often reminded of the time Mom pulled a perfectly golden-brown turkey from the oven and placed it on a carving platter. As she was carrying the 20-pound bird to the table for carving, it slid off the platter and planted itself in the middle of the kitchen floor! Mom, totally unruffled by the turn of events, scooped it up and returned it to the platter as if turkeys jumping to the floor was a routine problem. My aunt was so impressed that Mom could handle a crisis with such grace, that she was still telling the story more than 50 years later!
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love the food, the tradition, the family gathering, and the parades, and even football. I marvel at the sights, sound and smells of the celebration. It has changed since the first in 1621. That feast lasted more than three days. The Pilgrims thanked God for his provisions and gathered with the Wampanoag Native Americans to celebrate the first harvest. Were it not for the Native Americans, the Pilgrims may not have survived the previous harsh winter nor would they have learned how to plant the crops that grew well in the “New World.” More than 200 years later President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday.
When I was in grade school, we remembered the Pilgrims and Native Americans by learning Thanksgiving songs, and often put on a program that honored the heroes of that first Thanksgiving. When my kids were young, their school hosted a historic feast where we had popcorn, venison and cider, but no pumpkin pie or turkey because the Pilgrims and Native Americans didn’t have those traditions.
Thanksgiving will look different for many of us this year. Family members may not be gathering due to COVID restrictions so it will be quieter than usual, but we will still celebrate. We will have all the traditional foods, maybe use fancy Thanksgiving paper plates, and Zoom with those unable to attend. But we will still take time to thank God for our country, our freedom, and we will count our plentiful blessings.
This Thanksgiving, let’s focus on what we are thankful for and ponder at all the good things we enjoy. Have a happy Thanksgiving!