My family rates Thursday as a “typical” Thanksgiving. We’ve been through enough of them now that we feel qualified to make the comparison.
A typical Thanksgiving for most people means that everything went more or less the way a family gathering should — no arguments, no brawls, no pointless political debates, no broken furniture, and excellent food.
Like most holidays, expectations for Thanksgiving are based mainly on established tradition. It can be tricky business getting it exactly right.
Some traditions are trivial, but it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without them. In my family, the tradition is cranberry sauce.
It’s a solid Kirby family tradition that every year we buy cranberry sauce — and every year “we” forget to put it on the table. At one point, there were 11 cans of outdated cranberry sauce in our food storage. Other than pumpkin pie, that’s about it as far as tradition goes for us.
But it’s astonishing how easily Turkey Day can go sideways. I blame it on the gathering together of people who should know better. Considering the following examples:
- Two sisters who can barely tolerate each other suddenly begin screaming about the proper way to serve turkey, even though everyone knows the fight is really about which one of them Mom always liked best.
- Or it’s the sports nut who can’t grasp the fact that the reason everyone got together isn’t to watch TV and yell at people who can’t hear you and wouldn’t pay any attention to you if they could.
- Then there’s the religious/political maniac who has to spin every comment into a challenge of his or her personal beliefs about the way heaven or the world should work.
“You people disgust me. I can’t believe you asked a nonexistent God to bless a completely incompetent president while we prepare to eat more food than most poor villagers eat in a week. Please pass the stuffing.”
It doesn’t always go that way. But just about every family has one or two Thanksgiving events that become legends if not traditions.
For me, there’s a Thanksgiving spent in South America, where the mission home cook decided to surprise us with “real” American pumpkin pie made from an unrefined pumpkin. It was like trying to swallow a boiled parachute.
It wouldn’t have been so bad except that, as the junior missionary, I had to eat the slices passed out to the mission president, his wife and daughter, so that the cook’s feelings wouldn’t be hurt.
Then there’s the year my mom made everyone’s favorite pumpkin pie but forgot to put sugar in the filling.
The Old Man’s patriarchal first bite was epic. Unsweetened, baked pumpkin triggered a gag reflex so strong that it knocked most of the dishes off the table.
Mom tried to fix the problem by stabbing the pies with a fork and pouring sugar water into the holes, then reheating them. Didn’t work. Even the dog wouldn’t eat the pies.
Although Mom never again forgot the sugar in pumpkin pie, the Family Gag Reflex became Thanksgiving tradition. In our house, it’s required to retch when taking the first bite of any pie.
I hope your Thanksgiving traditions were everything you needed them to be. Now comes Christmas.
Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.