What Does Thanksgiving Mean to You?
At Serious Eats we've gone Thanksgiving wild. Each of us here in the office—and our contributors scattered far and wide—brings to the Serious Eats table ideas about the foods, recipes, and tips that will help make every Serious Eater's Thanksgiving the best it can be. We then post about them for your reading and cooking pleasure.
In so doing I realize that what we're doing at Serious Eats is what I've been doing at Thanksgiving ever since I was a kid, bringing people together by finding common ground. Finding common ground in any given group of people is really what Thanksgiving is all about, or at the very least it's what Thanksgiving has come to mean for me.
What does finding common ground mean within the context of Thanksgiving? A little family history might explain a lot.
My earliest memories of my family are from the early sixties, when my three brothers and I would eat Thanksgiving at our house with our parents. As you might have guessed, everyone in our household had strong opinions. Strong opinions about everything, but mostly about politics. Even though I was the youngest, the responsibility for finding common ground in this normally fractious group fell to me. I would try to steer the conversation to sports, not Stalin, to people, not politics, to food, not failure. Sports, people, and food were the subjects we could find common ground discussing, and discussion was what the Levine family did ad nauseam.
When I went off to college in Iowa I was forced to find common ground on Thanksgiving wherever I found myself. I remember one college Thanksgiving when a friend decided he was going to shoot pheasant for our Thanksgiving. I didn't really understand what that meant until I saw the sink full of pheasant blood when I woke up and went to the kitchen in search of some orange juice. Those college Thanksgivings were great. Many of us at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa, lived too far away to go home for Thanksgiving, so friends would band together to cook a collective Thanksgiving after a serious morning touch football game amidst piles of leaves. It was easy to find common ground.
After graduating from college I settled in New York City, and even though two of my brothers lived here, I usually ended up at the home of a friend's parents for Thanksgiving. I often found myself at a table full of strangers searching for common ground. Sometimes football, sometimes food, and sometimes music, but whatever it was, it was my job to find it. More often than not I succeeded, though there was that time I was seated next to someone who idolized Rush Limbaugh.
When I met my wife and we started hosting Thanksgiving for her family and various and sundry strays, I had to find common ground with her family, which is very, very, very, different from my family. Not better or worse, just different. Vicky's family shies away from heated personal and political discussions. The Levine family takes an almost perverse pride in having the kind of discussions that lead us to the brink of destruction before we end up seeking common ground, which is most often a discussion of the insanely impressive array of pies I have assembled for Thanksgiving.
So when someone asks me what Thanksgiving is all about, I don't say it's about the food (though good food is an insanely effective social lubricant). It's not about the football games, unless the Giants are playing. I just can't get that worked up about the Lions or the Cowboys, unless they are playing my team. Thanksgiving is about bringing people together somewhere, somehow, some way. If I can do that, if every person leaves our house feeling he or she has found common ground, or connected in some way, with a few other guests, that is my idea of a perfect Thanksgiving. Of course a piece of perfect apple pie always helps as well.