Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Of course we're having the usual roasted turkey, with our traditional oyster-stuffing. Not that anyone's asked. Not that there was any doubt. There will also be the usual number of pies, home-made rolls, some rich, scratch-gravy, and greens. Because my beloved husband, A. is an African American of a certain age, there will also be home-made macaroni and cheese, a dish of such decadent, bubbling, buttery goodness as to make nutritionists faint and his cardiologist weep in horror and frustration. And amidst all this carefully cooked and lovingly made bounty, there will be one otherwise anomalous, though not discordant note of pure, white-trash familiarity, to wit, one jiggling, gelatinous, cylindrical mass of canned cranberry sauce.
It's been twenty years or more since I last tried cooking a proper cranberry sauce. It was very nice, if I do say so myself, but more work than was warranted, and frankly, we missed the can.
(Our annual Thanksgiving houseguest, dear C. has been converted even so far as a small dish of greens and a helping of the mac & cheese, but nothing will induce him to so much as a spoon full of the canned cran.)
Nothing more tedious than the description of other people's menus, I find, but I offer the preceding by way of preamble, in order that I might establish, despite the entirely secular nature of our feast, that we are nothing if not American in nearly all other respects. There will be no "grace" at our table, but nonetheless -- canned cranberry sauce.
Thanksgiving Day, that most North American of holidays, is by its very nature both religious and not. Whether traced from the much mythologised supper at Plymouth Settlement in 1621, President Washington's proclamation of 1789 (for November 26th, by the bye,) or to Lincoln's proclamation of 1863, at least among our elders and betters, the day's purpose has always been as much about the promotion and preservation of union as the praise of God. (In these United States, now as always, go for the prayer-breakfast, stay for the politics.) To drag even older traditions into the mix, the primary purpose of any and all harvest festivals, other than making reverence to the unseen powers, has always been to eat together.
This is not, I hope, meant to be either a defence of our household atheism or a critique of those who may still choose to keep the last Thursday in November, like the Sabbath, holy. To each very much his or her own, I need hardly say. That, to my mind, defines the purpose of the Republic as well as any more elevated sentiment offered up this week.
What I like best about Thanksgiving Day in America are exactly those commonalities that make the occasion otherwise unexceptional: food, family, friends. More, I very much like the idea -- or ideal, I suppose -- of a whole people, not otherwise much known for uniformity of opinion, agreeing to eat together one day of the year, every year. That, it would seem to me, is an excellent undertaking, whatever the motivation.
I know personally people who will be eating lasagna, come the day, and others who will be enjoying, if that's the right word, their "tofurky." Some will sit down to an elaborate lunch, others to a substantial supper. One friend will be eating with her mother in the nursing home. Another will eat after he's preached his sermon. I know a number of people who will go to the movies, before or after their meal. I'm sure some may eat alone, and for that I am sorry, even if it is by choice rather than necessity. Some days, to be sacred in any sense would seem to me to require the company of others. That in mind, I know at least one family who will spend the day working in a soup kitchen, and not, I would add, in order to shame the rest of us for not putting on shoes all day.
I find the whole premise of the day admirable, whether spent in good works or merely up to our necks in good eats. If, to whatever degree, "mankind is my business," and ours, then one day, here at least, I see nothing but good in a whole country, and mine come to that, making it our business to eat together. Thank whomever responsible; supernatural, historical, or the one in the apron. The given should be our gratitude.
And canned cranberry sauce. In our house, anyway. Take it or leave it.