Why Do We Have to Eat Turkey?

Why do Americans insist on eating turkey every Thanksgiving? It’s not something we normally eat. It’s not most people’s favorite food. If this was my last meal on death row, I certainly wouldn’t order turkey.

My dad preparing to carve the turkey back in 1975.

Wild turkeys parade through my brother’s property near Yosemite. They don’t look that appetizing.

Turkey is a pain to defrost, takes hours to cook, is tricky to carve, and requires stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce to make it palatable. Yes, back in the pilgrim days, big birds were typical feasting foods. Pa went out and shot something. Ma defeathered it and chopped it up, and they cooked it over the fire for, I don’t know, days. What did they do with the leftovers without refrigerators? Or had they not invented food poisoning yet? Let me tell you from personal experience, bad turkey will make you awfully sick. It’s an amazing weight loss plan, but you feel so bad you don’t even care that your tight pants finally fit.

So why not celebrate Thanksgiving with steak, pasta, salmon or an enormous chocolate cream pie with multiple forks?

Oh no. Grandma cooked turkey, Mom cooked turkey, and I must cook turkey. Which I did. It was delicious. Last bit of leftovers going down for lunch today. A twelve pound of turkey is a lot for two people, but it doesn’t have much space for stuffing. And don’t tell me it’s not safe cooking it in the bird. We’re been doing it since my ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower. Anyway, I can’t wait to eat something normal like a hamburger or moo shu pork.

Every culture has its traditions. My Portuguese family ate linguica, beans and potato salad on Christmas Eve, but we had turkey on Christmas. Every time. I wonder if Mom’s good china, only used for the holidays, ever saw a different kind of meat. What if she decided to serve fried chicken, beef wellington or lasagna instead? Oh, the horror.

And don’t get me started on pumpkin pie. Of all the pies in the world, it’s my least favorite. I only eat it for the crust and whipped cream. Sure, the pilgrims didn’t have chocolate, but we do.

Ranting aside, my sister-friend Pat and I, both lacking husbands and local family, did the holiday together our way this year, mixing her East Coast and my West Coast traditions into something new. We had a great time. I hadn’t had company on a holiday in over a decade, not since before Fred’s illness got bad. In recent years, I have always gone to California to take my father to my brother’s house. With Dad gone and COVID pushing us to all stay home, I finally got my chance to break out the roasting pan and wash the dust off my own china, which you can be sure has held food that wasn’t turkey.

After dinner, we ate cake, watched Sister Act I and II, then pulled out the food and ate again, even though we were full. Why? Because it was Thanksgiving.

Between you and me, I’m kind of glad COVID forced us to change things up this year. If we do a rerun at Christmas, turkey will not be involved.

How was your Thanksgiving? Did you have turkey? Tofurkey? Something else? Were there fights? Or just tryptophan comas? What did you do with the leftovers?

My neighbors have already put up their Christmas lights up. Have you?

Discuss.

Read about it:

https://www.almanac.com/why-turkey-thanksgiving “Why Do We Eat Turkey on Thanksgiving?”

https://www.mashed.com/30402/real-reason-eat-turkey-thanksgiving/ “The Real Reason We Eat Turkey on Thanksgiving”

https://www.historyextra.com/period/modern/thanksgiving-history-facts-when-first-what-why-pilgrims-turkey/ “7 Facts You Might Not Know About the History of Thanksgiving”

Thanksgiving is Looking Different This Year

My brother Mike and I at Thanksgiving 2010. A lot has changed since then.

Thanksgiving is THIS WEEK. I made a mad dash to the J.C. Market yesterday for Thanksgiving cooking needs because I had just realized how close the holiday was. Now my turkey is in the refrigerator starting its long defrost. Bread pieces for stuffing wait on the counter. I’ve got potatoes, celery, apples, a bottle of chardonnay . . . my friend is bringing a pumpkin cake, cranberry sauce, corn casserole . . . it sounds like a regular Thanksgiving. But it won’t be.

Pat and I, both widows, are doing the day together. Our families are far away. Her son’s family is in Connecticut. Her daughter and son-in-law in California have COVID-19. My family is in California, too. In past years, I would drive to San Jose, spend a couple days with my father, then drive him to my brother’s place in Cathey’s Valley near Yosemite. That big house would fill with brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins. Babies, toddlers and older kids would be running around, along with several dogs. Football on TV. Cheese and crackers on the counter. Big tables laden with turkey, stuffing, ham, two kinds of potatoes, and more side dishes than I can name, plus three kinds of desserts. “Pass the gravy,” we’d hear. “Oh, this is so good.” “How’s it going up in Oregon?”

We would remember those who had passed on, drink a toast to them, hope they were having a good time in heaven.

After dinner, we’d stretch out in the living room, talk, watch TV, maybe go for a walk or a scenic drive. Later, there’d be turkey sandwiches and leftovers packed up for those who had to leave. We’d fall asleep full, not just with food, but love and family and gratitude.

When we were kids, my parents hosted most of the holidays. Somewhere I have pictures of all the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins sitting around that big table, eating, joking, talking over each other. Somewhere are home movies of those times, taken by my dad as we sat blinded by the light. When asked to say grace, my mother’s father would say, “Grace! Let’s eat.”

In later years, my mother did say a real grace, and then we passed the food in both directions at once while people knocked bowls against each other. Someone might toss a roll to someone across the table. We were so sophisticated.

Holidays were never totally idyllic. Arguments broke out. People’s feelings got hurt. One year, my sister-in-law’s garbage disposal overflowed, and the men took turns on the floor trying to fix it. One year my mother’s oven didn’t work and the turkey was raw. In his later years, Grandpa hallucinated with dementia. Later, when my husband had Alzheimer’s, he was lost and confused all day. Toward the end of his life, my father sat silent, unable to hear much of what people said. But I also remember him smiling at his baby great-granddaughter, making faces at her.

Shoot, I’m going to cry. My father passed away last year. So many are gone. The youngest baby is walking and talking, and I haven’t seen her since before she could crawl.

Stupid COVID. Most years I worry about the weather driving to and from California in the winter. If it’s snowing at Siskiyou Pass, then I have to take the coast route, driving through wind, rain and mudslides. Not fun either way. But I haven’t made that drive since last Thanksgiving. After years of going back and forth, it’s strange. I haven’t left the Oregon coast since March.

I debated about going south for Thanksgiving, but ultimately decided I would stay home this year. When I called my brother to tell him, he already knew. The governors of both states had just locked everything down because of the latest surge in COVID cases.

Newscasters, government officials and doctors are all saying the same thing. Do not gather in a large group for Thanksgiving. Stay home. Keep it small. Don’t risk spreading COVID. I fear a lot of people will ignore that advice and spread the virus even more.

This is Pat’s first Thanksgiving without her husband, who died in July. It will be hard. Every first holiday is hard. My husband died the day before Easter. I went to Easter dinner at a friend’s house where I felt like an outsider with her family. They were all sorry my husband had passed, but they quickly went on to other subjects. I don’t blame them. No matter where you go, you feel like you’re from another planet when a loved one has just died.

Anyway, Pat and I, who have claimed each other as the sisters we never had, are planning a huge meal, to be followed by a movie. Maybe, if the weather cooperates, we’ll soak in the hot tub. Maybe we’ll Zoom call our families. Maybe we’ll cry a little. And we’ll eat leftovers for a week.

What are your plans, dear friends? How are they different this year?