By Rachel Cardone
I think it started because my father hated Halloween. He was a teacher, it was the seventies, and we lived in rural Long Island. Our house got egged and toilet papered. So, my mother would make all of our costumes, put candy in a bowl outside, and while we were out he would turn out all the lights and sit in a back room, reading. Then, three weeks later, Halloween candy devoured, we would look forward to the arrival of the Thanksgiving Turkey.
You may think I’m talking about the bird. I’m talking about the Turkey. You know, the one who shows up about an hour after peak food coma, alerting you to his presence with a sound not unlike a football hitting a roof. Who hides bags of candy for good kids – outside if the weather’s nice, inside if it’s raining or snowing. No?
As an adult, I can imagine the confusion caused when guests participated with us, or when we’d talk about the Turkey at school on Monday. What amazes me to this day is nobody – nobody – ever told us we were idiots. Nobody told us it wasn’t real. Everybody sort of shrugged, as if to say, “Well, if that’s your tradition …”
As we got older, the Turkey went from real to quaint to a joke we never quite understood. Once I left for college in Ann Arbor, I didn’t really celebrate Thanksgiving. Traveling home was too expensive, and in my early 20s piety, the holiday reeked of American gluttony. Then more excuses: I became urban, and it was too much effort to get home. My concerns were not their concerns. My politics and religion and work and life choices were different enough to make the day feel like an obligation to be backed out of, if I could find a good enough excuse.
I didn’t start enjoying the holiday again until my thirties, when, as a newlywed, our neighbors invited my husband and me over for “pre-Thanksgiving dinner with people we like”. Food, gratitude, laughter, and community became the new tradition. And Thanksgiving became my most favorite holiday of the year.
The essence of Thanksgiving it to create a harvest dinner, and create space to express gratitude for all the blessings in our lives, no matter how easy or hard the year has been. It captures the essence of being human: what’s more human than sharing a meal? And it accommodates all heritages and cultures that contribute to the American experience. As a kid, we ate an Italian antipasto with cured meats, cheeses, olives and pickled vegetables at ours. My husband’s family had hummus and labneh at theirs. We’ve had salmon out here in Seattle. I’m sure you have a special side dish or main that takes you right back to simpler times, and new tweaked recipes that keep you present. We bring our diversity and personal style to a tradition that creates space to reflect on who we are as families, communities of individuals, and as a nation, if we let it. It can be a beautiful thing.
Last year, my dear Uncle Tommy died on Thanksgiving Day. Strangely enough, on Thanksgiving Day two years ago, my beloved Uncle Vincent passed. The holiday has evolved from a day of food and candy, to a day of gratitude, to a day of remembrance. And yet…
A few weeks ago, tired of telling Halloween stories to my nearly 5 and 3 year old daughters, I started to tell the story of the Turkey. As a joke, really. As an, isn’t Grandpa super silly, sort of story. But they keep asking me to tell it, over and over. They wonder if the Turkey will leave candy for them. They wonder if they’ve been good enough. I don’t like that framing, so I’m evolving the story to be more about gratitude and love. I’ve pulled in elements of sweet and bitter, borrowing from Jewish New Year traditions, to reflect the aspiration that gratitude be a constant in our lives, across our highs and lows. And I think I can get behind the Turkey visiting our house this year, moving him from a joke to something magical and real. And with that, an old family tradition has been renewed for the next generation.