Tinkering with Thanksgiving Traditions

by Memoir Mentor on November 24, 2012

This year I decided to break with Thanksgiving tradition. People who know me might find this surprising. I’m generally not a risk taker. I’m an eldest-daughter type–always the responsible one. But I’ve been stepping over some serious lines lately, like taking up with the Democrats after a life-long allegiance to the Republican Party. Maybe I’m going through a way-late mid-life crisis of some sort, who knows?

My rupture with Thanksgiving tradition had its beginnings some weeks ago with my decision to celebrate Thanksgiving on Wednesday this year instead of Thursday. It was my eldest son’s year to gather with the in-laws, and Number Two Son said he’d prefer to come when his brother’s family was there. I got it. I, too, wanted everyone together, so we adjusted, an easy fix.

I figure I’ve hosted more than three-dozen Thanksgiving dinners during my marriage. I’ve mastered the basics and haven’t deviated much from the tried and true. Like your family, we’ve loved it just the way it is.

But changing the day suddenly gave me license to look at other Thanksgiving traditions with a critical eye. I grew up learning that once you put one toe over the line, you were looking at all the way. Afraid of risk, I never tested the theory…until now.

“When did the tradionally baked turkey become so sacrosanct?” the “new me” asked herself after viewing Ina Garten’s “Barefoot Contessa” a few weeks ago. I had just watched Ina create what she called a Turkey Roulade made from a five-pound, boneless turkey breast rolled jelly-roll-style with turkey stuffing. It looked good…and it looked soooo easy the way she did it. Why not? Who says I needed to do things the same old way? So, I ordered my turkey breast from the butcher, and followed Ina’s instructions to the letter, watching the online video of the roulade-roll-up several times to make sure that I did.

The roll-up thing wasn’t quite as neat and easy as Ina made it look—natch—but my family raved. They rave no matter what, so it’s hard to get an accurate reading from that limited demographic. Frankly, I thought it tasted pretty great, but I’ve always been a white meat person. The most effusive praise came from my husband who proclaimed the Contessa’s stuffing recipe the best he ever tasted! “We should do turkey this way next year,” he said, “make it a new tradition!”

Upon reflection, I decided there was other “stuff” behind this stuffing accolade. I had effectively taken away his main Thanksgiving chore—carving the turkey. He always hated the spotlight being turned on him every year as he considered anew how to tackle the job. Things rarely went according to plan, the tension palpable as everyone looked on while the mashed potatoes and gravy cooled on the sideboard. His sons—now men—have increasingly been throwing in their two cents, adding to the strain. Then there was that dangling, dripping carcass to dispose of…. Well, Ina and I had eliminated all that in one fell swoop. All the pressure was gone. “Carving” was now as simple as slicing bread.

We all had a great day together, as good as any Thanksgiving ever was. Even though it was on Wednesday. Even though I’d messed with the tried-and-true. Change can be good.

On Thursday morning, my husband and I awoke to a quiet house. All the dishes and pots and pans from the day before had been washed and put away, the leftovers snugly stored in the refrigerator. I laid in bed thinking about the women all over America who were wrestling with their turkeys, peeling potatoes, rolling out pie dough. Been there done that. Whatever would we do with the long day ahead?

I rolled over in bed and put the question to my half-asleep husband. The day was ours to do with as we pleased. What a luxury. We decided to take in a movie—not one, but TWO. How fun would that be? Are theaters open on Thanksgiving? They are.  It felt a little like desecrating the Sabbath at first, but those thoughts soon left me as the theater darkened and I dipped into my tub of hot buttered popcorn. Yum! It was surely a day to feel grateful.


{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Linda Hoye November 25, 2012 at 7:15 am

That turkey looks delish! I’m an oldest-daughter-responsible-type too but find myself doing all kinds of crazy and radical things in my older years like painting my toenails blue, choosing to stop coloring my hair, and (gasp!) even going out for Thanksgiving turkey dinner.

Sounds like you had a perfect Thanksgiving doing just what you wanted!

2 Memoir Mentor November 25, 2012 at 9:52 am

I hear you, Linda. Doesn’t it feel wonderful to break the rules now and then after a lifetime of modeling “good” behavior? Thanks for stopping by and commenting on my post.

3 Dawn Peck November 27, 2012 at 10:40 am

Sounded like a great success! We did a Wednesday celebration one year to accommodate British relatives whose travel schedule couldn’t include Thursday festivities, then a few years ago broke with turkey on both Thanksgiving and Christmas (really bird overkill) to go British with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding on Christmas. (No one else but me will tolerate fruitcake, though.) This year, oldest daughter Sue and husband are in Scotland celebrating with grandson Reed, an exchange student at U. of Edinbourgh. I guess with an average of 13 people here our biggest tradition is flexibility. See you at next class, no mattter where. Best regards — Dawn

4 llcall December 4, 2012 at 11:38 pm

Ever since you mentioned this last week, I’ve been trying to picture what Turkey Roulade was — I don’t really “speak” cooking. I’m all about breaking down traditions that don’t work for me, which has been a little harder since I moved back from the East coast. Now my family wants to have a say in holiday celebrations. I miss the days of eating Pad Thai or sushi all by myself on Thanksgiving!

5 Memoir Mentor December 8, 2012 at 6:54 pm

You’ve always been your own person. I love that about you. After talking to you, I usually come away with something fresh and interesting to consider. However, I don’t think I’d long consider Pad Thai or sushi for Thanksgiving…despite my recent break with tradition.

6 Millie Anne Lowe October 28, 2013 at 10:54 pm

What a conincidence! I came across Ina’s recipe just last week and decided to try it this year. Glad to have your opinion on it. Turns out we’ve been invited to my daughter’s in-laws for Thanksgiving again and since it is always a big feast, making this Turkey Roulade with my own chestnut, apple,raisin, and sausage dressing will be an easy success on the Saturday following. Then my daughter and her husband, my husband and I, can watch 2 DVD movies at home! (Popcorn is off my food list now.) We will once again celebrate with a homemade pumpkin pie from Pat LeFever’s recipe. It’s fantastic! Last year we made 6 of them for all the events we attended and our meals at home.
Happy Thanksgiving!
Millie Anne Lowe

7 Meada Ouzounian November 17, 2013 at 10:59 pm

Dawn, I sit here and wonder just how you keep track of all the emails you must receive on so many different sites. A quick memory for:
Your site here reminded me of one out of the ordinaryThanksgiving dinner we celebrated approximately thirty or so years ago. For some reason I decided to pack up all of the Thanksgiving Dinner, leave with the family (Moses and about six of our children) to go visit an amusement park in Escondido, CA. After a long ride in very congested traffic because families were gathering with each other for their special Thanksgiving dinners, we arrived at the park,

Amazing! The park was closed. Everything else was closed too. We finally ended up sitting on the benches of a deserted football field, holding bulging plates in our laps and trying not to let the chilly wind blow away our cups.

With six, less than happy, children crowded in the car and a frowning husband, we inched our way home for three hours in the long traffic jam.

8 Chuck Burnes March 16, 2014 at 4:29 pm

Dawn ! Very happy to see that you’ll be working the April 19th genealogy fair, again, this year, at the Stake Center in Orange! Will you be selling your book there or should I send you a check now and simply pick it up there? Please advise including how much to send. Thanks! …..Chuck Burnes

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