Most families have their own unique Thanksgiving Day traditions. Sometimes the traditions come in the form of a special food — like Aunt Sue’s candied yams, or Uncle Frank’s oyster stuffing — but other traditions may involve who gives thanks, who sits in which seat at the table, and who carves the turkey. One tradition that often differs from family to family is: when do you eat the primary meal?
I say “primary meal” because, in our household, Thanksgiving Day typically involved pretty much uninterrupted eating, from stem to stern. There was the initial breakfast period, followed by the light grazing period, the heavy grazing period, the meal itself, and finally the irresistible post-meal, belt-loosened extra piece of pumpkin pie or leftover turkey sandwich while watching the last football game of the day. So, just to clarify, here I’m talking about the table-groaning meal where you actually sit down together, eat the freshly carved turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and a few rolls, and take a slice of the cranberry relish that still is in the form of a can because somebody has to do it.
In our family the primary Thanksgiving meal came at roughly 4 p.m., depending on whether the turkey was done. The meal was strategically positioned between the end of the first football game broadcast and when the next game started to get interesting. At our house, that timing of the meal was so deeply engrained that it never occurred to me that you could eat your Thanksgiving meal in any other time slot. When I later realized that some people ate at noon, or 2, or (horrors!) 6:30, it was an astonishing revelation. And I often wondered how you could move the meal and still fit in the other parts of the Thanksgiving Day festivities, like watching the parades, the various grazing periods, the backyard touch football game, and the evening card games.
So, when do you eat? And if you doubt that the timing of that primary Thanksgiving meal is a tradition, ask yourself why you eat when you do. If your honest answer is a shrug and the response that you’ve always eaten at that time, that sounds like a family tradition to me.