Thursday, November 18, 2010

Non-Traditional Thanksgiving Traditions

posted by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy

A week from today here in the good ole USA we celebrate Thanksgiving. Ah yes, the holiday of gluttonous over-indulgence. But how did a day meant to give thanks for a bountiful harvest become the traditional day to over-eat?

I think I know...

Okay, maybe it's more like a theory since I don't have any proof, but I think the tradition of pigging out on Thanksgiving happened sorta by accident. I mean, it's easy to picture... everybody worked hard in the fields the past six or seven months. There's a huge spread of food and no way to save most of the left-overs... Everyone's talking and joking and you can't insult any of the cooks...

It could have happened!

Just like so many of the weird "traditions" in my family's Thanksgiving celebrations. Here are a few:

The Turkey Neck

A very long time ago when Aunty was just a little girl, Grandma was in a bad mood on Thanksgiving (probably because she was fixing dinner for about 30 people and nobody was helping her). Anyway, sometime just before we all sat down to dinner, Grandpa sneaked into the kitchen and then into the dining room, and put the turkey neck in the middle of her plate. Every one thought this was quite hilarious, including Grandma (which tells you something about our family), and for at least a decade after (even after Grandpa was gone) at every Thanksgiving dinner, SOMEONE (a different person every time) would walk into the dining room and find the turkey neck in the middle of their plate.

Black Olive Fingers

When Aunty was growing up, we were very much a meat & potatoes kind of family. A bowl of pitted black olives were reserved for special occasions like Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. We kids were prone to piling a lot of them on our plates, and being fairly round, they often tended to roll off, which brought a stern reprimand from the nearest adult. To remedy this, one Thanksgiving my baby brother stuck an olive on each of his finger tips. Seeing how effective this method was, my older brother followed suit. My sister and I were far to sophisticated for such antics, and besides our fingers were too big (we were older).

No matter how many times my mother asked them not to, my brothers continued to eat their olives this way until their fingers also grew too large. But lest you think this tradition died out, my baby brother was fourteen when my son was born and by my son's second Thanksgiving, guess what his uncle had taught him to do?

Fruit Salad Topped Turkey

I wasn't exaggerating before when I mentioned 30 for Thanksgiving dinner. Easter and Thanksgiving were the two times every year when my aunts, uncles, and all my cousins would come over to eat. With that mob around the table, there was no such thing as seconds, at least not with anything good. If you couldn't fit it on your place the first time it was passed around, you were usually out of luck.

One year when my older brother was a young teen (and had the voracious teen boy appetite) he had no room left on his plate when the bowl of fruit salad came his way. Fresh fruit salad happens to be (still after all these years) one of my brother's favorite holiday dishes. He was not about to pass it on no matter how full his plate, so he piled a generous helping ON TOP of his slices of turkey. Halfway through the meal, my brother loudly proclaimed that his fruit salad topped turkey was the best he'd ever tasted. I confess I have never tried it, but to this day, my brother puts fruit salad on top of his turkey, and at least two of his daughters do too!

So there you have some of my family's non-traditional traditions for Thanksgiving dinner.

What about you? Do you have any unique things you do at Thanksgiving dinner? If you don't celebrate Thanksgiving, what about other holiday non-traditions? Aunty would hate to think that her family if the only weird one when it comes to holiday meals.


barb said...

is he staying with me woohoo

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Hey Barb!
I guess he in enjoying the lovely sunny weather DownUnder. Don't let him eat too many TimTams!


barb said...

yes AC he is enjoying the sunny weather here but it is clouding over now so we may get a storm .... will take him a walk round the block before I give him more tim tams LOL
We don't celebtate Thanks Giving here but we do overeat at Christmas.... we don't have the traditional Christmas dinner as it is too hot so we have salads instead of the hot vegies..I still miss the cold Christmas that we had in the UK even though we have been here for 30 years

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

I'll never forget the Thanksgiving I spent in Oz. We ate fish & chips, how's that for flying in the face of tradition? But since no one else was celebrating we didn't care. It felt very odd to me to see Santa in shorts and on a surf board! Dunno if I could ever get used to have a warm & sunny Christmas, but I'd like to try it at least once. ;-)


Donna MacMeans said...

Hey AC! And a premature Happy Thanksgiving to you. Have you started cooking yet? We've been working on cleaning out the fridge and freezers in anticipation of starting the major food prep.

We have one unique Thanksgiving tradition. When I was a newlywed, we had a tiny kitchen in our tiny apartment. The stove was next to the refrigerator and I frequently used the top of the fridge to stack up "stuff". (counter space and cupboard space both were at a premium.) When I was preparing my first Thanksgiving dinner for my new husband, I was making the gravy on the stove when I bumped the fridge. I heard a "plop" but assumed it was the gravy bubbling.

We sat down to dinner on our card table to eat our meal. My husband loaded his plate with turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, veggies, and gravy. As he poured out some gravy, a big ole coat button, fell into his potatoes. "It's for good luck," I improvised. "It's like finding the baby in the King Bread." I later explained that the button was an accident - but we laughed and thought it was a tradition worth preserving. Now we always put a clean button in the gravy for luck, the kids insist on it.

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

ROFL!!! A button in the gravy?!?! LURVE IT, Donna! See, that's exactly how I think most of these Thanksgiving "traditions" got started... BY ACCIDENT!

Me cook dinner? Surely you jest! I haven't cooked at Thanksgiving in about 30 years, and yes, there's a story behind that but it isn't pretty. :-P The DH will be handling the cooking chores, unless he decides we should go out for dinner. We've done that a lot, but always miss having leftovers.


Anna Campbell said...

Hey, Barb, clearly all this talk of cooked turkey has him scared and staying in Oz! Congrats!

Anna Campbell said...

Cindy, I loved your stories about the family Thanksgiving. We don't celebrate that particular holiday down here - our traditional day for overeating and family get-togethers is Christmas. That's turkey day too so I suspect the rooster might go Stateside then!

Sheree said...

A button in the gravy is good luck? I'm sure it's better than lumps.

The best, most succulent turkey my mother cooked when I was growing up was done so in the microwave. To this day, I have no idea how she did it. Other than that, the only Thanksgiving "tradition" is arguments at certain relatives' tables (thankfully, they were only in-laws and not even mine at that). Another interesting fact is that the wild turkeys in my neighborhood disappear around Thanksgiving. Prescience or migration? Hm...

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Hmmm, I think you may be correct about the chook being scared of all the turkey carcasses in the stores and defrosting in the fridges...

Yup, we bring out the turkey and the full spread again for Christmas. Crazy having 2 HUGE meals like that so close together. (burp!)

Usually the weather was bad at Christmas so no relatives came for dinner. Easter was always fun because we usually did a huge family picnic after church. Ham is our usual choice at Easter. What about you?


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Hey Sheree,

Nothing worse than lumpy gravy! And obviously those wild turkeys were a lot smarter than their domestic counterparts. My grandmother always kept chickens (for both eggs and meat) and sometimes she would buy a few turkeys to raise with the current crop. Those were by far the DUMBEST birds I've ever encountered. :-(


PinkPeony said...

Hi Loucinda!

We grew up eating sticky rice instead of bread stuffing. Mom always makes a cranberry jello mold too. DH, the self-proclaimed gravy master, makes the gravy. We usually have turkey and prime rib. I make corn pudding with bacon and fried shallots every year. Pies, creamed spinach, brussel sprouts (yech) with bacon and gorgonzola..Hosting 20+ this year and today, I realized it's next week! Donna..I love the button story and the tradition! And olives were very exotic fare for us growning up. Major food coma's just around the corner!
congrats, Barb!!

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Hey Pink!
The brussels sound GOOD, but creamed spinach? I'll pass. You are a BRAVE WOMAN cooking for so many. I hope someone else is doing ALL the clean up! ;-)


Helen said...

Barbara he is enjoying it at your place LOL

Aunty Cindy

Love those traditions and Donna the button is such a great idea.

Christmas is our big family get together and yes we over eat and have lots of leftovers I love it. Christmas is at my place this year and I need to start making the cakes and the pudding very soon, and even though it is really hot here we still have the traditional hot Chrissy lunch with pork turkey chicken ham roast vegies cauliflower peas and of course gravy lots of it.

I am not sure whether we have any particular traditions in our family other than to eat lots and enjoy the day

Have Fun

Kim in Hawaii said...

In Hawaii, we celebrate Makahiki in honor of Lono, the god of fertility and agriculture. The ruling class collect food items from the farmers and send them off to sea in a canoe for Lono.

The Hawaiians also hosted a festival. At the end of it, the chief would canoe out to the ocean and come back to land. As he came ashore, he had to parry or avoid spears being thrown at him to prove his ability to lead.

Hickam Air Force Base hosts this ceremony on the beaches as the military pays its respects to the local culture.

Jane said...

Hey Aunty Cindy,
We don't really do any unique things on Thanksgiving, but we do like to use canned gravy. It's just easier that way instead making real gravy.

Congrats on the GR, Barb.

Christie Kelley said...

Boy AC, I come from a large family but I can't think of any non-traditional things we do for Thanksgiving. Now I'm bummed. I never thought we were all that traditional.

Susan Sey said...

Good morning, AC! We don't have any traditional foods outside the norm, but we do like to tell the same stories. It doesn't matter who tells them but there are a few family chestnuts that absolutely must be trotted out & dusted off.

They aren't funny to anybody but us but we like it. I'm polishing up my delivery of the time our friend mistook a moose for a donkey. It's a good one. :-)

Louisa Cornell said...

He is definitely loving the good weather, Barb! Wish I could join him!

My Mom always makes chicken and dumplings for Thanksgiving in addition to all of the usual Turkey Day fare. Then my baby brother and I fight over who takes the leftover chicken and dumplings home. They are put into one of those really nice Rubbermaid bowls and put in the fridge. During the day they go missing. One of us takes them from the fridge and hides them somewhere in Mom's house. Then the other one finds them and hides them somewhere else. This goes on all day like some kind of demented Spy vs Spy (showing my age with that reference!) The niece and nephews LOVE it and they usually side with me against their Dad/Uncle. Whoever has custody of the dumplings at the end of the day gets to take them home! Those dumplings have shown up in some bizarre places over the years!

Our other holiday tradition is the Monopoly game after Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. My Dad was a big Monopoly fan and so we continue to play every year to honor his memory. And also for bragging rights for a whole year.

Ehram said...

I love the trukey idea, I'm going to see if the restaurant we're going to for family dinner(amazing Christmas dinner deals) won't serve a turkey neck to one of the family. I think it would be hilarious.

Janga said...

Our Thanksgiving gatherings are small(15-20) compared to those of my childhood (40-50), but the menu is much the same. My sister and I have tried varying the menu, but if we do, someone invariably complains that a favorite dish is missing.

I've reached the age now where I like the feeling of connection I get from using recipes that my grandmother and mother used. Even the grands refer to certain dishes using names of relatives they never knew--Mama's dressing, Nana's lemon cheese cake (not cheesecake), Aunt Tula's potato salad. The only non-family dishes on the table will be mac & cheese, the grands' favorite, and Senator Russell's sweet potatoes, a dish that is traditional for us. No olives for us, but we do have peach pickles. Only my sister eats them now, but everybody fusses if they are not on the table. We're a traditional bunch when it comes to our holidays--same food, same stories, same teddy bear pilgrims between candles as the centerpiece.

Deb said...

Hi, AC. One food item that is a MUST for my family's Thanksgiving meal is orange rolls. Gram made 'em every year and my mother has continued to do so since Gram died. My dad also likes to have the turkey stuffed with prunes and apples---and they do give a great flavor to the meat and dressing.

We do something different for the Christmas Day meal. My two sisters also go to their in-laws' for a Christmas meal, so they decided a long time ago to have traditional foods from one country of our choosing. It's fun and enjoyable, but my dad, husband, and I do miss the turkey with all the trimmings; so, I have been inviting my folks down for a turkey dinner in mid-January for quite awhile now to make up for Christmas dinner.

Anywho...For the last 15+ years, we've celebrated Danish (of course!--Nielsen is my maiden name), Scotland (delish), England, Russia (also delish), France, Spain, Mexico, Australia, and tons of others. This year is Prince Edward Island/Canada since my BIL's mother is from there.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Fun stories, AC. For a number of years, we did the traditional Thanksgiving meal at my in-laws. Then, one year, my MIL made her awesome homemade pizza instead. So good.

I do still like a traditional Thanksgiving meal, although honestly I could live without the turkey. I love the dressing, the pumpkin pie and all the other goodies, but can take or leave turkey.

Nancy said...

AC, Thanksgiving at your house sounds like a serious blast! We never had that kind of fun with holiday meals.

We have no unusual customs. We feed the dog from the table fairly overtly, which would give my mother hives if she were still alive and is also frowned upon by dog trainers.

And we talk for the dog.

But we do those things at all meals. That's about as whimsical as we get.

Barb, I hope you're keeping the GR busy!

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Morning Everyone!
Yes, it's still morning here on the Left Coast where it promises to be another sunny, warm day -- not like November at all.

Helen, sounds like you have a LOT of work in your very near future! What a spread! Like I said, I'd love to try that Christmas with summertime weather at least once... Maybe next year?!?!

jonesing for some TimTams

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Hi Kim,
How COOL that you honor the local culture there at Hickam! But that poor chief, he earned his big meal dodging all those spears. ;-) Glad I don't have to do that!


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Don't worry Jane, your secret about using canned gravy is safe with me! Sven, however, may be outraged if he finds out.

We weren't big gravy eaters, probably because my mother wasn't a very good gravy maker... except biscuits and gravy for breakfast! Now THAT everyone scarfed up.


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Morning Christie,
You're right, your immediate family is a lot bigger than mine. I'm SURE some of them did a few 'non-traditional' things! C'mon now, what's said in the Lair STAYS in the Lair, right?!?! You can tell us. ;-)


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Mistaking a moose for a donkey, Susan? What exactly was that family member imbibing before this happened?!?! Can we get some of it for our holiday party here in the Lair?!?!

We'll have to get you to tell some of those other family stories someday soon!


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

ROFLOL, Louisa!

Hide the dumplings sounds HILARIOUS! And I love that your niece and nephews now get involved.

Darn! My gramma always made the BEST chicken and dumplings. My mom's and mine were never quite as good though I swear we both followed her recipe exactly. :-(

Haven't played Monopoly in years either. We had some really cut-throat games back in the day...

Thanx for bringing back some GREAT memories!


catslady said...

Loved your stories. I can't think of anything too odd except we don't make turkey gravy in our house (because my mom never did) and when talking to many different friends they all seem aghast that I don't lol. Oh and my mom loves the neck but she saves it for the next day to work on it.

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Hi Ehram,

Lots of people I know toss the turkey neck in the trash! Or some boil it up for turkey soup. Not much meat there for sure. Let us know if the restaurant cooperates, and if you still think it's hilarious if YOU are the one with the neck on your plate! LOL!


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

I LOVE that you serve dishes named after the relative who created them. What a wonderful tradition!

I've never heard of peach pickles. Watermelon rind pickles, yes. Peach, no. But then I don't really like ANY pickles so I'm probably not a good one to ask. ;-)


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Deb, orange rolls sound YUMMY! You'll have to share the recipe with us sometime. And a friend of mine's mom used to stuff the turkey with apple slices too. Made the meat very moist as I recall.

What a GREAT idea to serve a meal from other places! So did you serve haggis when you did the Scottish dinner? Did anyone actually eat them?!?!


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

My sophomore year at college, the weather was too bad to drive home for Thanksgiving so one of my friends made her homemade vegetarian pizza for dinner. It was GREAT!

I hear ya on all the trimmings being better than the actual turkey. ;-) SHHH! Don't let Sven hear us!


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

There's something to be said about a nice quiet meal. Some of our family dinners were "interesting" to say the least!

We talk for our dogs too! And while we try NOT to feed them from the table, anything that slips off the plate is fair game. There is NO 30 second rule around my table coz it's gone in 3 seconds!


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Hi Catslady!

Nope, no turkey gravy at my place either. Like I said, my mom wasn't very good at making it, and nobody ate it so why bother?

How funny that your mom saves the turkey neck for the next day! No turkey soup? That's one of my favorite things to make with leftovers. How bout you?


Suzanne Ferrell said...

Hey Cindy!

Love the chicken neck story!

Can't say we have any unusual traditions...okay, but they do it at all the holidays. The kids discovered the ability to make their crystal glasses sing by rubbing a wet finger around the rim. At first it was just a way to help their dad annoy me, but now, they make sure they have different amounts of drink left in their glasses and try to make chords. If someone is disonant, or off key, they have to drink more until the whole chord is in harmony. Makes for lots of drinking!!!

Suzanne Ferrell said...

AC: Darn! My gramma always made the BEST chicken and dumplings. My mom's and mine were never quite as good though I swear we both followed her recipe exactly.

My grandma did too. Unfortunately, she never really wrote down her recipes OR taught us exacely how to make them. Sigh. I do miss her dumplings and her biscuits.

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Hey Suz!

Glad you stopped by and shared about rubbing crystal to make a chord. What a GREAT non-traditional tradition! In my family, we could never be trusted to drink from glass containers (except coffee mugs) it was plastic all the way, which isn't too musical. :-P


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...


I'm REALLY missing chicken & dumplings now. I may have to try making some at Christmas... They won't be the same, but maybe they will suffice.

And homemade biscuits?!?! YUM!!! My mom's were great, but still not QUITE on par with Gramma's. ;-)


Beth said...

What a fun post, AC! I can picture your holiday dinners so clearly *g*

The only tradition we have that's different from anyone else I know is that every year my mom makes meat stuffing. I'm not sure what's in it but it's sort of like a meatloaf. The only people who eat it are my dad and one brother :-)

MsHellion said...

Love the traditions. *LOL*

Even though I have not reproduced--I'm the Grandma. I'm the one who makes all the Thanksgiving stuff and gets VERY cranky.

Our Colley tradition is to make homemade fresh Cranberry Relish with fresh cranberries, oranges, sweet apples, and red jello (and sugar). We have a hand crank grinder to make the relish and it's a PAIN IN THE ASS. And my brother ALWAYS wants it, but he never makes the damned stuff nor helps in anyway but to complain if we haven't made it. Dad is our peacekeeper--he is always washing dishes for me or helping with the relish.

A few years ago, I made homemade rolls that took me about three hours or better to make--and NO ONE complimented them. They were awesome, and no one said a bloody word. I have gone on strike from making them now; we have store rolls. And anytime the family asks for homemade rolls, I say, "Not a freaking chance."

Cassondra said...

Barb, people are starting to talk....

You've got something going on with that rooster.

Aunty Cindy, what is it with turkey necks? Every grandmother I know always wants the turkey neck for Thanksgiving! Mine used to hover over the turkey with almost a venomous glare as it was taken from the oven and put on its platter. Nobody could have the neck but her.

Although I've eaten turkey necks before (as much as you can eat one--best I could do is nibble at the barely-there meat on the thing) I never have seen the appeal.

flchen1 said...

Hi, AC! No particular traditions I can think of, but for the past couple years, we've been eating out for Thanksgiving--Chinese food ;)

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Hey Beth,
Never heard of meat stuffing before, but if it tastes anything like meatloaf, I'd definitely like it!


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Wish I were there for some of that homemade cranberry relish. It sounds DELISH!!! Too bad it is such a PITA to make. :-P

I have a story much like yours with the homemade rolls. GAH! What a TON of work I know those to be. Anyway, once upon a time, I made lasagna from scratch. Cooked the sauce for half the day, made sure all the other ingredients were "just right." One afternoon, my then-husband called from work to say he was bringing two co-workers home for dinner in an hour and could I make lasagna? ACK! So I threw it all together and used CANNED sauce. The ex never noticed the difference! Okay, he didn't become the ex until a few years after that, but that was one of his many offenses! LOL!

Oh yeah, NEVER made the cook-for-hours homemade sauce again.


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...


'Tis a mystery about those turkey necks, that's for sure. I've tried to eat them too and they are definitely NOT worth the effort!


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Going out for Chinese sounds like an excellent idea! I've done that on Christmas on several occasions. ;-)