Thanksgiving requires a big serving of decisions

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Thnk about the holiday as a time to say thanks for compromise.

By Steve Doyle

Anyone older than about 3 can recite the history of Thanksgiving. Newcomers to America got together with the natives in 1621 and celebrated a harvest. About 240 years later, Abraham Lincoln established it as a holiday on the last Thursday of November. About a hundred years ago a guy named Gimbel suggested that a parade that day would be the opening of the Christmas season. About 100 months ago, somebody named Walton decided that you didn’t need Santa’s arrival in that parade to get the merchandising ball rolling and keep it going all day and all night and all weekend.

Only one common denominator: We’re supposed to spend some time thanking God for all our blessings.

But what you didn’t read in that holiday synopsis was that Thanksgiving really got its name because it is a day of decisions – and we thank each other for giving in and making those easier.

That dawned on me when I was considering how difficult sprawling and fragmented families find gathering at a central place and upholding the spirit of the day. If you know anything about me, you know I revere Thanksgiving because I cherish families and peace and time to share both. The turkey and football are side dishes to the main feast of love and, yes, thankfulness.

So I don’t mean to demean these traditions when I suggest that in some ways Thanksgiving can spark more indecision than Charles Darwin doing a cold reading of Genesis.

Think about your own history, haven’t you found that the who, what, when, where and how sometimes sort of overwhelmed the essence of it all?

First any mother this side of Eve wants her family at home and hearth for the big holidays. Problem is that most families today operate under the wishes and wonts of an average of 4.2 mothers.

If you are a couple with children, there’s the mother in your house. Then there’s the mother of each of you, and sometimes another mother who is married to a dad. The mother of your children may live elsewhere and want her kids in her home. And figuring all that out can be a mother lode of trouble.

What this means is that most couples and families have to decide with whom they will eat on Thanksgiving, and none isn’t an option. That can lead to doubleheader meals. I have a nephew and his wife who do tripleheader. My mother has taken to waiting until Sunday, so she can have everyone under one roof. And that roof can be retractable.

I count loosely that I’ve eaten a Thanksgiving meal in about 16 different homes, two restaurants, one newsroom and once a turkey dog on the go. Those are not exaggerations. We had a streak of seven years and seven different places with my wife’s family, and maybe eight in 10 years.

Some families never vary: They visit one spouse’s childhood house and call it a tradition. The other side of the family gets dibs on Christmas or some other celebration, but the big Thanksgiving meal is all set.

Of course that brings up when: As in, when do you eat? Some people like the noon meal, and others prefer 6 p.m. There’s the 3 p.m.-try-to-avoid dinner approach, and I’ve encountered some folks who will do brunch, thus freeing up the schedule for those who would have a strolling meal at two or three houses. I’ve eaten as early as 11 and as late as 7, but I never worried about that.

Do you watch parades and football? Do you eat around those schedules? Do you dress up or dine casual? Does everyone sit down or have a buffet? Is it OK to eat and watch a game at the same time or keep the meal a quiet exchange?

Even gathered and timed, the real debate is the what: As in, what dishes are placed on your traditional table? If turkey is a given, is it wild, Butterball or range-fed organic? Do you brine it? Do you roast it? Do you grill it? Do you put it in a deep fryer? Do you smoke it? Anything works except trying to do it rare. There are consequences to rare.

What goes around the turkey? Stuffing? Cornbread or crouton? Mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes? Yams or tubers? Do you serve your green beans soaked for hours into a soft mush or almost al dente and adorned with nuts or cheese? Do you go for cranberries or canned jelly? Casseroles or steamed vegetables? Are store-bought items OK or should everything be fresh from someone’s home? Apple pie or pumpkin or some other kind? A la mode or with whipped cream?

Who does the dishes? The host’s family or a visitor who feels he or she wants to contribute? Is OK to take a tryptophan nap or do you have to yawn and leave early?

See every nuance of the day requires a pivotal decision, and that can be tiring, taxing and totally thankless. That so many have overcome such debate and had successful holidays is a testament to what I consider the ultimate Thanksgiving debate: the prayer.

Some people are practiced at saying the blessing at every meal they share, but that ceremony tends to bring to the table some folks who pray about twice a year.

But I’ve never attended a Thanksgiving meal in a home that didn’t include some sort of prayerful moment, sometimes leaving the oratory to one person and others going around the table or room so everyone can share a personal blessing. Some people offer prayers from other cultures, and others squirm while the person praying makes a Hallelujah chorus out of it.

Which sort of prayerful approach is best? Lord knows about that one.

There really is only one thing to be known for sure about the correct Thanksgiving: If you are blessed to share the day with someone you love, then, you truly have thanks to be given.