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by Jim Killam | 5-minute read

 

Transparency alert: I wrote this article several weeks ago, before Illinois was begging its residents to stay home on Thanksgiving. With increasing numbers of us either sick or under precautionary quarantine, and most others heeding the guidelines (I hope), a traditional Thanksgiving just isn’t in the offing this year.

So, if you’re forging ahead with smaller plans, here’s a walk through a typical Thanksgiving itinerary. If you’re feeling blue about cancellations or Zoom dinners, parts of this might make you feel better about staying home this year.

 

The Warmup

The wardrobe. Unlike Christmas, no one goes out and buys a new Thanksgiving outfit. Business casual is a good bet here, although you’re likely to see everything from suits and ties to sweatpants. Pro Tip: Whatever your level of formality, go for the adjustable waistband.

The coat pile. It’s in the spare bedroom, on a bed with attractive throw pillows from 1976. If there’s a smoker or two in the family, this bedroom soon smells like the teacher’s lounge at my high school. Pro Tip: Leave your coat in the car.

The Detroit Lions vs. … somebody. With the exception of one particular associate pastor, nobody around here cares about this game. But interest is intense. That’s because it starts in late morning. The relatives have arrived, but dinner isn’t quite ready. If you’re not helping with the food, you are sitting in a circle of folding chairs, eyes riveted on the Lions game. This prevents uneasy conversations with relatives you haven’t seen since last Thanksgiving.

Pro Tip: Study beforehand and be ready with interesting comments. Here’s a start: 15 Fun Fact About Detroit Lions.

 

The Prayer

Hey, it’s why we’re here, right? If you have the honor  — either in person or on Zoom — keep this one short and sincere. It’s not the time for a political message or a three-point sermon, passive-aggressively aimed at particular family members. Do remember to thank God for the food, though not necessarily each item. Read on.

 

The Feast

Deep-fried turkey. This delicacy has become a favorite in our family. Partially because it tastes like the Boone County Fair, and partially because there’s a sporting chance that the person frying it could blow up the garage.

Stuffing. Or dressing, if you are pretentious. This is by far the best thing about Thanksgiving dinner. Go ahead, fill up on bread. Put gravy on it. Cover most of your plate with stuffing. Pile more stuffing in your salad bowl. If there’s a garbage-can lid handy, use that, too. But leave room for …

That green bean casserole with mushroom soup and those onion stringy things on top. The second-best item on the table. I can’t find the Bible reference, but I believe this is the only casserole we will be eating in heaven. With your plate smothered first in stuffing and now this, you have less room for the more-regrettable options. Such as …

Sweet potato casserole topped with mini marshmallows. Is it a salad? Is it a dessert? Is it alive? Who knows? By the mid-20th century, marshmallows were considered a convenient substitute for meringue (pronounced: Marengo) or whipped cream. None of that sounds like a good idea with butter and sweet potatoes. Generations later, this regrettable confection lives on, but only at Thanksgiving.

Jell-O salad. Another leftover from the mid-20th century. Food magazines and busy moms were once fascinated that you could create a quivering, molded ring of … oh, let’s not go and ruin it — with assorted food bits suspended in it. Mini marshmallows, fruit bits, shaved carrots, sour cream and, I swear, mini-hotdogs. All on a bed of soggy lettuce. How could anything so colorful taste so … colorful?

Squash. Not a fan. Too much like baby food. Squash is also a verb: “to crush or squeeze something with force so that it becomes flat, soft, or out of shape.” Squashing something never makes it better. Let’s move on.

Rice pudding. Two otherwise fine words that should never, ever be used together. In low light, this dish looks a lot like the stuffing. Choose wisely.

Mincemeat pie. There is no meat in this pie anymore. For that, we can enthusiastically give thanks. Originally, mincemeat pie was filled with shredded mutton, beef, rabbit … whatever you happened to have running around the barnyard.

Pro Tip: To enjoy a traditional feast while also following COVID guidelines, throw everything into a blender and enjoy liquid Thanksgiving through a straw, tucked neatly under your mask. You may laugh, but this idea is not completely new. The people at Jones Soda once created a variety pack representing Thanksgiving dinner. It started with Cranberry Soda (very tasty) and Pumpkin Pie Soda (tolerable). This would have been a good point to stop. But the pack also included Mashed Potato & Butter Soda, Turkey & Gravy Soda and yes, Green Bean Casserole Soda.

We will most assuredly not be drinking Jones Soda in heaven.

 

The Conversation

Here’s where things can be light and fun, or deeply significant … or they can go off the rails, down a ravine and burst into flames. If the talk veers toward politics — and realistically, there’s not much chance this year that it won’t — play things close to the vest. Listen thoughtfully. Have some more stuffing. Then, if you must, speak gently. You’re probably not going to change someone’s mind just now.

Above all, if you are gathering in person, don’t escalate anger. Remember: Everyone at the table has a knife, and that turkey fryer outside is still operational.

Pro Tip: Things still getting too tense? Toss out one of these tried-and-true conversation turners:

  • What was in that fish-shaped, beige Jell-O — because I want some more!
  • Do you think anything will ever replace the leisure suit?
  • Wow, is that Evel Knievel ever a showman!

Whoops. Those were 1970s conversation turners. The 2020 list of guaranteed safe conversations looks very different, of course.

Hey, how’s that Lions game going?

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