Yesterday, The New York Times published a map with The Thanksgiving Recipes Googled in Every State. With a little help from Google, they found the most distinct dishes searched for in each state. To look at the list of recipes is, at best, a little frightening. I mean, c’mon, why on earth would you make a Snicker Apple Salad? How do Snickers bars and apples go together in a salad? Who was the first person to think of that? And what the heck is a Frog Eye Salad? I don’t even want to think about that one!
It finally hit me, though, that these dishes are more than just food. These searches are more than just a search for something to put on the side table. They represent memories. They represent a connection with the past. Nowadays, isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about?
The first Thanksgiving was all about survival and, perhaps, giving thanks that the Native Americans showed mercy on an unprepared visitor. For a time, Thanksgiving may have been about celebrating the harvest, being thankful for a fine year with good crops and splurging a little after having spent the rest of the year eating pretty lean.
Today, though, we generally have food at our beck and call. We don’t have to wait all year to roast a turkey or make one of the casseroles that we associate with the holiday, but, for some reason, we do. We wait. Thanksgiving has become less about the food and more about the people that we share that food with. Think about it. What’s the first thing you say when asked what you are thankful for. For most of us, it’s not the food.
I grew up in Northern Louisiana. Back then, Thanksgiving meant taking a three hour drive down to Southern Louisiana to visit my grandparents (on my mother’s side) and all of the family that still lived improbably nearby. It would be nothing to see 20-30 people packed into this little farmhouse set back in the fields off of a tiny road outside of a small town in the countryside of Louisiana.
I can remember sitting at the kitchen table, watching my grandmother’s hands hard at work. I would be called away for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but that could only hold my interest for so long. Back to the table I’d go. I’d go help grandpa feed the chickens or run some other chore, then back to the table. I’d be there all day until the table was finally set, then I’d sulk over to the kids table. The sulking only lasted as long as it took to get a huge plate of food in front of me. Then, euphoria.
I’ll admit, though, that those memories are fleeting, faded and full of holes. As the families drifted away geographically, the connections to that past began to drift away as well. Now it feels as though those memories are just another bedtime story told so long ago and I find myself chasing after those memories more and more as the years go by.
Thanksgiving is our annual chance to really connect with our family’s past. It’s a unique holiday in that sense. We aren’t celebrating a religious event or something innately patriotic. We are celebrating ourselves and our families. I think that’s why so many people search out those seemingly odd recipes. They are trying to show their kids (or themselves) that dish that grandma used to make. They are trying to find that one thing that takes them back.
In this day and age, Thanksgiving is less about the food and more about connecting, once again, with a side of ourselves that we hardly remember.
Throughout November, I have been posting about those things for which I am most thankful. Look for more of my Giving Thanks series.
What are you giving thanks for this year? What does Thanksgiving mean to you? Leave a comment and share your story!