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.